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A respite is a delay in the imposition of sentence but in no way modifies a sentence or addresses questions of due process, guilt or innocence.
The pardon power of the United States Constitution has been broadly interpreted to include a variety of specific powers. Among those powers are: pardons, conditional pardons, commutations of sentence, conditional commutations of sentence, remissions of fines and forfeitures, respites and amnesties.
Historically, presidents have granted most respites for periods of 30 to 90 days and have renewed (extended) such delays when it seemed necessary. The most common public explanations for respites have been to:
- delay executions (for a variety of reasons)
- allow additional time to study clemency applications
- await the outcome of an appeal
- allow full executive review of a sentence affirmed in the appellate process
While these have been the commonly stated reasons, the Constitution does not limit the circumstances or the length of time involved
According to the Office of the Pardon Attorney (U.S. Department of Justice), presidents have utilized respites to varying degrees although, as is the case with every other form of executive clemency, there has been something like a general decline since 1900. The Pardon Attorney has posted data for respites for some administrations. Most recently, Bill Clinton delayed the execution of Juan Garza in order that an ongoing study of bias in the federal death-penalty system might be completed.
- P.S. Ruckman, Jr. 1997. "Executive Clemency in the United States: Origins, Development, and Analysis (1900-1993),"27 Presidential Studies Quarterly, 251-271
- Microfilm Set T967, National Archives
- Annual Report of the Attorney General, 1890-1932
- Presidential Pardons by Administration 1789-2001 at www.rvc.cc.il.us
- USDOJ: Office of the Pardon Attorney - Presidential Clemency Actions By Fiscal Year
- "Media Spotlight Dims as Garza Put to Death," Houston Chronicle, June 20, 2001