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Clemency in Ohio

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland has granted clemency to Richard Nields, Andrew Welsh-Huggins reports for AP. The governor's statement is here.

Clemency in capital cases is relatively rare these days, for a number of reasons. One reason is that there are far fewer capital crimes than in the past. The Supreme Court has required the states to limit the death penalty to murder and to further specify some objective factors that make the case worse than the minimum elements of murder. The Court has further created categorical exceptions that exclude the cases that would have been the most compelling cases for clemency.

A second reason is the much greater judicial scrutiny that capital cases receive. In California, for example, only 14 inmates have made it through the system to execution in the post-Furman era, and in none of these cases was the clemency question even close, in my opinion.

A third reason is closely related to the second. Because so many murderers that should be executed are not, there is great public frustration with the system. Political pressure on the governor not to commute the sentence in one of the few cases where it actually can be carried out is greater than it would be if deserved sentences were routinely carried out.

This may be where Ohio is different. As the AP story notes, "The state has executed 14 men since Strickland, a Democrat, took office in 2007. He has spared three inmates, including Nields."

Fourteen in 3½ years is a lot. It is well more than Texas if considered in proportion to the number of murders in the time period in which these crimes were committed. When a state's death penalty system is actually working, the governor has the political elbow room to grant clemency in a capital case.

So, everyone carping about how seldom clemency is granted in capital cases, get behind the reforms needed to achieve an effective death penalty.

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