Mackenzie Mays wrote in the Los Angeles Times last week about Governor Gavin Newsom’s nuanced approach to commuting prison sentences — the commutations often don’t lead to releases from custody, but only to potential releases from custody. Newsom “sends prisoners to the parole board, allowing its commissioners — who include attorneys, former wardens and correctional officers — to decide their fate.”

The in-depth piece mentions the Supreme Court’s role in the clemency process. The state constitution requires a governor to get an affirmative court recommendation before granting a pardon to, or commuting the sentence of, anyone who has been “twice convicted of a felony.”

Newsom’s most recent clemency recommendation requests to the court (see here) reflect his concept of conditional mercy. Several requests asked permission to commute life-without-parole sentences. However, in cover letters to the court, the governor’s deputy legal affairs secretary wrote, “The Governor is contemplating a commutation of sentence that would make [the prisoner] eligible for a parole suitability hearing.”


The Supreme Court’s part in any possible commutation of all California death sentences