Capital Clemency Resource Initiative Update

In April of 2018, the Project’s Capital Clemency Resource Initiative (CCRI) officially launched its clemency resource website to the public and announced the publication of its new book, Representing Death-Sentenced Prisoners in Clemency: A Guide for Practitioners.

The book represents a start-to-finish guide to thinking about and preparing for clemency representation in capital cases, whether as a private attorney, a pro bono volunteer, or a seasoned capital defender. While clemency is an inherently unpredictable and discretionary process—which can make engaging in clemency representation daunting and even frustrating for attorneys—it is also an incredibly important part of a death penalty case. If approached thoughtfully and with the same amount of planning and strategizing that goes into preparing capital cases for review in other parts of the legal process, it can significantly increase the chances of saving a client’s life. Indeed, in 2018, there have been three individual grants of clemency amid 23 executions—a clemency grant rate of about 13%. In the 1990s and 2000s, by contrast, the rate of individual clemency grants was down to about 4%. This change may signal that decision makers are once again beginning to exercise their power to intercede in executions. 

Representing Death-Sentenced Prisoners in Clemency covers topics such as preliminary planning in a capital clemency case; contemplating victim and juror outreach; discussing clemency with your client; identifying potential messengers for your clemency campaign; and thinking about how to involve media in advocating for your client.

The CCRI also launched its resource website at the same time as the book was released. The website’s public pages include state-by-state clemency process information, which will continue to be expanded in 2019, as well as public clemency statements, decisions, petitions, and other resources. Over the summer in 2018, the CCRI also published more than a dozen mental health fact sheets that were assembled with the generous assistance of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. These fact sheets are available to the public and represent a snapshot into current medical and scientific understanding of many of the mental illnesses and disabilities that may be present among individuals on death row. All of the information that is available on the site has been tagged for subject matter and is fully searchable using keywords or by navigating through the toolbars at the top of the page. The CCRI is adding new resources to the website on a regular basis, and the homepage to the site displays a ticker with the resources most recently added.

For practitioner users, who can gain access to the resource-restricted areas of the site by requesting login permission on the homepage, the website also includes conference materials relating to capital clemency representation; clemency applications and supplementary materials that are not otherwise publicly available but have been shared by practitioners for publication on the site; strategic materials for thinking through discrete aspects of the clemency process (such as bringing court challenges, securing funding, and conducting juror and victim outreach); and a downloadable PDF of Representing Death-Sentenced Prisoners in Clemency.