Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD)

Award/Publication Date



life without parole, clemency, guided discretion


In the last thirty years, life without parole (LWOP) sentences have flourished in the United States. Of course the very reason for a LWOP sentencing scheme is to incarcerate the convicted defendant until death. But under the Pardon Clause of the Constitution, as well as under state laws granting the Governor the pardoning power, inmates serving LWOP sentences might be eligible for early release by commutations. On the one hand, the possibility of clemency could be regarded as an impermissible loophole that could be used on a case-by-case basis to undermine the certainty of a LWOP sentencing system. On the other hand, those who are concerned about prison overcrowding, and those who want to reward a prisoner who has rehabilitated himself, would certainly favor the increasing use of clemency to provide early release for many LWOP inmates.

This dissertation tests whether commuting LWOP sentences is a fair early release procedure. This dissertation will also provide suggestions on how to regulate the commutation power as applied to LWOP inmates so as to make it consistent with the principles behind a LWOP sentencing scheme. This dissertation concludes that while commuting LWOP sentences can be justified under certain circumstances, the application of commutation in many American jurisdictions is arbitrary and inconsistent with the premises of LWOP. The dissertation provides suggestions for bringing more fairness into the commutation process as applied to LWOP inmates.

Included in

Criminal Law Commons