Military Justice: How to Argue for Clemency in Each Branch of the Military
Military service members have two different ways to request clemency.
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After a court-martial conviction, military service members have the option of asking for clemency. Clemency can be granted by the convening authority who referred the charges to trial or by a clemency and parole board. The process of requesting clemency from the convening authority is different from requesting clemency from a clemency and parole board.
Requesting Clemency From the Convening Authority
When a convicted service member requests clemency from the convening authority, the convening authority has discretion to grant clemency by setting aside the conviction or reducing the sentence. It is normally difficult to get clemency from a convening authority. Sometimes the convening authority may agree to defer a punishment, but if you had a pretrial agreement, most convening authorities won't budge. Still, you should use your opportunity to ask for clemency from the convening authority. Perhaps something new came up during trial that wasn't covered in the pretrial agreement.
Clemency must be requested from the convening authority after the sentence but before the case is closed. If the request is denied, the next step is to request clemency from your branch's clemency and parole board. In some cases, clemency review is automatic, but when this is the case, it can also be waived.
About Clemency and Parole Boards
Clemency and parole boards are comprised of five senior military officers who make recommendations to the Service Secretary for your branch of the service.
Under Department of Defense regulations, these boards are responsible for independent and impartial evaluations of a prisoner's request for:
- parole, mandatory supervised release, or clemency
- reduction in sentence, and/or
- restoration to duty.
There are three boards, Air Force Clemency and Parole Board, Army Clemency and Parole Board, and the Navy Clemency and Parole Board (also serving the Marines and Coast Guard).
How to Request Clemency
To request clemency, submit a clemency petition to the board for your branch of service. Contact information for each board is listed at the end of this article. It is advisable to retain an attorney to assist you with your clemency petition, or, if you cannot afford an attorney, you may wish to seek the assistance of a veterans’ service organization representative.
When Am I Eligible for Clemency Consideration?
The time when you become eligible for clemency is driven by the length of your sentence. For example, if your sentence is for less than one year, you are ordinarily not eligible for clemency. If your sentence is for a year or more but below ten years, you should generally be considered for clemency nine months into your sentence. For life sentences without parole, you are not eligible for clemency until you have served twenty years, and you are then eligible for consideration every three years.
Review Department of Defense Instruction 1325.7 Section 17, Eligibility and Procedures for Consideration for Clemency to learn more about when you will become eligible for clemency.
How a Clemency Case is Evaluated
Your request for clemency will be evaluated according to DOD regulations and regulations for your branch of the service. Generally, the boards evaluate:
- the crime you committed and the circumstances surrounding it
- your circumstances in civilian life prior to entering service, and what types of social support you will have upon release
- your military service history
- whether you have pursued education during your incarceration
- if you are rehabilitated (meaning, have you accepted responsibility for your crime and participated in rehabilitation programs while incarcerated)
- restitution, if any, that you may have paid to victims
- psychiatric evaluations
- recommendations made by the judge who convicted you, and
- a statement by the victim, if any.
Will I Be Able to Make a Personal Appearance Before the Board?
The Air Force Clemency and Parole Board permits written petitions only; you will not be permitted to appear.
The Army Clemency and Parole Board does not permit you to appear; however, an appearance may be made on your behalf by an attorney or by family or friends.
The Navy Clemency and Parole Board does not permit you to appear; however, an attorney, family, or friends may appear on your behalf. Occasionally you may be permitted to submit a video.
How Will I Know What the Board has Decided?
After the clemency and parole board has issued a decision on your case, that decision will be communicated to the military correctional facility where you are being held. Staff at the correctional facility will advise you of the decision, and it will be your responsibility to inform your attorney or representative or your family member or friends who were assisting you with your petition.
Contact Information for Clemency and Parole Boards
Army Clemency and Parole Board
251 18th Street South, Suite 385
Arlington, VA 22202-3531
Phone: (703) 571-0532 or (703) 571-0538
Fax: (703) 601-0493
U.S. Air Force
U.S. Air Force Clemency and Parole Board
1535 Command Drive EE
Wing 3rd Floor
Andrews AFB, MD 20762
Navy, Marines and Coast Guard
Naval Clemency and Parole Board
720 Kennon St SE, Suite 309
Washington Navy Yard
Washington, DC 20374-5023
E-mail – firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone: (202) 685-6338 or (202)-685-6452
Fax: (202) 685-6629
Read the Navy's online brochure for more information.