Trend Watch

Alice Johnson Granted 'Clemency'

Searches rise 5,800% after announcement

Both clemency and commute spiked on June 6th, 2018, following the announcement that the life sentence for Alice Marie Johnson would be reduced to the time she has already served, 21 years.

Kim Kardashian advocated for Ms. Johnson’s release with President Trump during a recent White House visit, emphasizing that her crime was a nonviolent first-time drug offense.

Clemency means "merciful treatment of someone who could be given harsh punishment." It comes from the Latin word that means "mild" or "gentle" (the related word inclement literally means “not mild” or “stormy” and refers to weather conditions). Clemency is distinguished from a pardon which implies forgiveness for a legal offense as opposed to a declaration of the end of punishment.

Commute means “to change (a penalty) to another less severe,” a meaning that dates to the 1600s and reflects the meaning of its Latin ancestor commutare, meaning “to change” or “to exchange. Commute did not have the meaning “to travel back and forth” until the late 1800s.

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