Thursday, March 30, 2023

No Commutation For Pamela Smart

The New Hampshire Supreme Court has held that it lacks jurisdiction to consider Pamela Smart's mandamus petition seeking commutation of her sentence for a high-profile crime that has been portrayed in various media

The following facts are undisputed. The petitioner is currently serving a life-without-parole sentence for her conviction as an accomplice to first degree murder. See State v. Smart, 136 N.H. 639, 643 (1993). In August 2021, counsel for the petitioner submitted a Petition for Commutation (Petition) addressed to the Governor, Executive Council, and New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office. See RSA 4:21 (2020). The Petition requested a hearing before the Executive Council and for the Governor to commute her sentence. Specifically, the petitioner requested that her sentence be “modified to eliminate the ‘without the possibility of parole’ condition, and commuted to time served.” In support, the Petition included a memorandum, as well as voluminous letters, academic degrees, and inmate progress reports.

The Governor included the Petition on the agenda for the March 23, 2022 meeting of the Governor and Executive Council. It is undisputed that the Governor and Executive Council’s discussion of the Petition lasted less than two and a half minutes. Ultimately, the Governor and Executive Council voted to deny “consideration of whether the petition of Pamela Smart (age 54) requesting a commutation hearing for the offense of Accomplice to First Degree Murder should be granted.” This petition for a writ of mandamus followed.


in the absence of any controlling “constitutionally-mandated procedures” applicable to the executive branch’s exclusive authority to exercise its clemency power, we conclude that the petitioner seeks a ruling on a political, nonjusticiable question. Because imposing procedural rules or standards upon the executive branch in the commutation process would violate the separation of powers doctrine, we dismiss the Rule 11 petition for lack of jurisdiction.

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