, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp 327-331
Date: 01 Feb 2007

Austin Sarat, Mercy on trial: What it means to stop an execution

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The recent controversy occasioned by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s refusal to commute the death sentence of Stanley “Tookie” Williams, the co-founder of the notorious Crips street gang and convicted murderer of four people, underscores the significance of the emerging scholarly debate taking place over the normative justification for the practice of executive clemency. The discretionary authority of the chief executive to mitigate the terms of a juridical punishment is, of course, a venerable institution, with deep roots in the Anglo-American legal tradition. Indeed, the US Supreme Court has held that the practice of executive clemency serves—in theory if not always in practice—as the constitutional remedy of last resort for claims of injustice that are beyond the procedural reach of further judicial scrutiny. However difficult it is as a practical matter to reliably establish such grounds for commuting a death sentence, this use of the clemency power is not a matter of s ...

The views expressed in this review are the author’s personal opinions and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Department of Justice.