A military service member who has been convicted of a crime at a court-martial can ask for clemency at any stage of the appeals process or afterward. They can request clemency either from the convening authority or from a clemency and parole board. The convening authority is the person who referred the case to a court-martial.
A convening authority generally will be less likely to grant a clemency request than a clemency and parole board. You would need to make this request after the sentence is issued and before the case is closed. Clemency might involve reducing the penalties or setting aside the conviction entirely. Most convening authorities will be reluctant to grant clemency if a pre-trial agreement in the case stipulated the type of punishment that the service member would receive. They might be more receptive if the service member can identify some information that arose at trial but was not known at the time of the pre-trial agreement. If the convening authority denies clemency, a further review by a clemency and parole board sometimes will be automatically available. However, a service member also can waive clemency review.
Pursuing Clemency from a Clemency and Parole Board
You will be eligible to receive clemency from a clemency and parole board only if your case meets certain criteria. A service member who is sentenced to less than one year of confinement probably will not be eligible for clemency. If they are sentenced to at least one year but less than 10 years, they probably will be eligible for clemency after serving nine months of confinement. If they are sentenced to life without parole, they will be eligible for clemency after serving 20 years of confinement, and every three years afterward if clemency is not granted. A service member would need to submit a petition to the clemency and parole board for their branch of the military, ideally with the assistance of an attorney.
A clemency and parole board consists of five senior military officers. They evaluate requests for clemency, parole, reduced penalties, supervised release, or restoration to duty. The Navy Clemency and Parole Board covers clemency requests by members of the Navy, the Marines, and the Coast Guard, while the Army and the Air Force maintain their own boards. You will not be allowed to appear before a parole board. However, the parole boards for the Army and the Navy will allow family members or friends of a service member (or the service member’s attorney) to appear on their behalf. The parole board for the Air Force reviews only written petitions.
The board will review several different factors in making its decision. It will consider the crime at issue, the military service history of the individual, any progress toward rehabilitation, their situation in civilian life, and any assistance that they would receive after their release. The board also may review a statement by the victim of the crime, recommendations by the judge who convicted the service member, psychiatric evaluations of the service member, and efforts by the service member to pursue education. If the punishment for the crime involved paying restitution to a victim, the board will investigate whether it has been paid. Once it reaches a decision, it will notify the facility where the service member is serving their sentence. The service member will need to tell anyone outside the facility about the decision.