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Death Penalty Series: Should Clemency Be Granted to Prisoners with Terminal Illnesses?

February 6, 2019

Death Penalty Series: Should Clemency Be Granted to Prisoners with Terminal Illnesses?

In life, there are many situations where we — as individuals — grant mercy to others. But when it comes to acts committed by criminals, should the state grant mercy? That is a question now facing the governor of Tennessee in a death penalty case.

Charles Wright, an inmate on Tennessee’s death row, may die of cancer before his election date. He is currently scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection on October 10, 2019. Mr. Wright has prostate cancer that has spread to his bones. He is in a prison infirmary, having been moved from Tennessee’s death row facility. He is not expected to live until October.

Mr. Wright has petitioned the governor of Tennessee to either reduce his sentence so that he can apply for a medical furlough, which is a special release that can be granted to terminally ill prisoners. Medical furlough is not available for prisoners on death row. If the governor reduces his sentence to time served or life without parole, Mr. Wright will be eligible for this program, and can spend his last days with his family.

Mr. Wright was convicted of a drug-related double homicide in 1985. According to former Congressman Bob Clement, who has advocated for clemency on behalf of Mr. Wright, he was raised in an environment where it was not surprising that he turned to drugs at an early age. He argues that the circumstances of his life justify granting clemency in this case.

Clemency involves an act of mercy. In the criminal justice system, it involves the power of the executive branch (such as the governor of a state) to reduce a criminal sentence. For an inmate who has been sentenced to death, clemency is the final opportunity for a death sentence to be reviewed before a state carries out the punishment. As a criminal defense attorney Los Angeles, CA can explain, every state and the federal government has a procedure by which a person convicted of a crime can seek clemency.

There are three main types of clemency that are typically sought by a defendant. A pardon undoes the consequences of a criminal conviction, along with its consequences. A commutation reduces a sentence to less than what the court originally imposed upon a defendant. Finally, a reprieve either delays or stays the carrying out of a sentence. In some states, governors have the sole authority to grant clemency.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 288 death row prisoners have been granted clemency for humanitarian reasons since 1976. These reasons include judgments about the death penalty and doubts about the defendant’s guilt. In some cases, clemency may be granted for person reasons, such as the health of the defendant.

The death penalty is a complicated subject that brings up strong emotions for all involved. While many Americans believe in showing mercy, there are situations — such as when the person requesting clemency has committed murder — where they do not believe in mercy.

If you have been accused of a crime, the Chambers Law Firm can help. We offer highly skilled criminal defense to Californians who have been accused of a range of offenses. Contact us today at 855-397-0210 or dchambers@clfca.com to schedule a free initial consultation today.

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