NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Governors Under the Gun on Clemency

May 10, 1999

Voters are in no mood to go soft on criminals. So governors are under pressure to proceed with death row executions, granting clemency only at their own political risk.

  • In the 23 years since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty, 544 inmates have been executed and 39 granted clemency.
  • Fourteen of those 39 who escaped their death sentences were granted clemency by just three governors who were about to leave office.
  • Conversely, governors caught in the heat of political battle or who are new to office are under great pressure not to intervene on behalf of a death row inmate, according to political observers.
  • Thirty-eight states currently allow the death penalty.

California Gov. Gray Davis (D) is likely to face more clemency pleas than any other governor in the country. The state currently has more than 500 inmates on death row. Knowledgeable observers say he probably will grant clemency to one or more of them at some point, but only after he has had a chance to establish a reputation among voters for toughness in criminal matters.

Source: Evelyn Nieves, "Being in the Wrong Place at the Right Time," New York Times, May 9, 1999.


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