Murphy the first governor since McGreevey to issue no clemencies in first term
Gov. Phil Murphy delivering his second inaugural address in Trenton on Jan. 18, 2022. (Amanda Brown for New Jersey Monitor)
Gov. Phil Murphy issued no pardons during his first term in office, becoming the first governor to do so since Jim McGreevey.
In New Jersey, clemency powers are vested solely in the office of the governor. While the State Parole Board can investigate petitions for executive clemency and make recommendations, those recommendations are not binding, and the governor has the final say on who receives clemency.
A spokesperson for Murphy, who started his second term last week, declined to comment.
For the most part, executive clemencies are rare in New Jersey. Just 105 pardons and commutations have been granted since Christine Todd Whitman became governor in 1994.
By comparison, California — a state with a population of about 39.5 million, compared to New Jersey’s 9.2 million — saw 63 clemencies approved last year and 99 in 2020. Those included 29 reprieves, which temporarily block an individual’s criminal sentence.
No New Jersey governor has issued a reprieve in at least the past 27 years.
Murphy has noted he’s taken other actions to reduce the state’s prison population. The governor in October 2020 signed a measure allowing for the early release of certain prisoners during a public health emergency. That led to the release of more than 5,300 incarcerated individuals before the state’s initial public health emergency ended last June. With a new declaration issued earlier this month, that number could rise.
Murphy in 2019 also signed a bill allowing New Jerseyans to expunge their criminal records of most crimes, with exceptions for certain severe offenses like homicide, sexual assault, robbery, and perjury, among others.
New Jersey governors tend to issue most of their pardons at the end of their terms. Chris Christie issued 15 clemencies during his first seven years in office but pardoned 38 people and commuted sentences for three others in his final year. He issued 36 of those orders in his final weeks as governor.
In his first three years as governor, Jon Corzine issued eight commutations as part of his push to eliminate the state’s death penalty, moving inmates off of death row and into life sentences. His final year saw 14 clemency orders.
Christine Todd Whitman pardoned seven people in her first year in office then issued no clemency orders until eight years later, when she pardoned 12 other individuals on her last day as governor.
Even governors who serve short terms have invoked their clemency powers. Former Senate President John Bennett issued a single pardon during his four-day stint as acting governor.
Donald DiFrancesco, another former Senate president who was acting governor for just under a year after Whitman resigned to helm the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush, pardoned five people and commuted the sentence of a sixth before leaving office.
Sen. Richard Codey (D-Essex), another former acting governor, commuted the sentence of Robert Cumber, who was convicted as an accessory to murder after inadvertently passing messages between Robert Marshall and the man Marshall hired to kill his wife. Cumber’s health had started to fail after 20 years in prison.
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