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Research Tip #24

Executive Clemency Records

Article 18 of the 1777 New York State Constitution authorized the governor to grant pardons and reprieves to convicted criminals. This power was continued in the state constitutions of 1821 and 1846 and was expanded to include commutations by Article IV, Section 5 of the Constitution of 1894.

The State Archives holds over eight thousand case files (Series A0597) and numerous related registers documenting the process of application for and granting of pardons or commutations of sentences by the governor.  Case files contain petitions and other correspondence from convicts and their families, friends, and attorneys requesting to have sentences reduced or terminated.  Details of the crimes, resulting legal procedures, and the background of the criminals themselves are often included.

While many or in some cases all of the documents in the executive clemency files are disclosable to researchers under law, the State Archives is responsible for determining which materials within the files are open to the public.

The State Archives maintains an index that provides access to the files by inmate name, inmate number, date of clemency application, crime, and county where inmate was convicted.