“The criminal code of every country partakes so much of necessary severity, that without an easy access to exceptions in favor of unfortunate guilt, justice would wear a countenance too sanguinary and cruel.”

Alexander Hamilton, Federalist 74

There are two primary kinds of clemency in Minnesota, exercised by the Governor under the Minnesota Constitution “in conjunction with the Board of Pardons.” Minn. Const. Art. V, § 7. First, there are commutations (“reprieves”), which are granted to an individual currently serving a sentence. Second, there are “extraordinary pardons,” which are granted to those with an unblemished record for a period of time following the completion of their sentence, including any post-release probation or parole (five years for a non-violent offense and ten years for a violent offense). There is also an ordinary pardon, which does not carry time limitations.

The Board (https://mn.gov/doc/about/pardon-board/) consists of three members: the Governor, the Attorney General and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The current enabling statute requires that all three members of the Board agree unanimously on any grant of clemency.

The Board meets two times a year. At public meetings, it considers a roster of cases that were filed at least six months prior to the meeting. Many cases are decided “administratively” (that is, without a public hearing). Those whose cases are denied administratively are provided with written reasons for the denial. Those whose cases are considered publicly at the hearings are given public explanations for the decisions in their cases.

While the Pardon statute is not expositive about the factors that drive a commutation, it does state that a pardon will not be granted absent a finding that the person “is of good character and reputation.” The applicant may have committed a terrible crime, but who are they now? Are they a person of good character and reputation?