On July 6, 1993, the 5th Saeima of the Republic of Latvia fully reinstated the country’s Constitution. On July 7, 1993, the Saeima elected Guntis Ulmanis as President of Latvia.
Section 45 of the Constitution speaks to the right of the President to grant clemency to criminals whose sentences have taken force. The procedure for such clemency, however, is not specifically regulated in the Constitution, and so on December 17, 1993, President Ulmanis approved new rules drafted by the Presidential Chancery on the way in which requests for clemency are considered.
The Clemency Service was established so that the President could review clemency requests in accordance with the rights that are enshrined in the Constitution. In September 1995, President Ulmanis announced the establishment of the Council of the Clemency Service. Ten people were asked to join the council with advisory rights related to clemency requests from persons who had been sentenced to death.
On December 4, 1997, the 6th Saeima amended Section 45 of the Constitution to say that a special law must be adopted to regulate the rights and procedures of the President in relation to clemency issues. On June 16, 1998, the Saeima approved a new law on clemency, and the President proclaimed it on July 7, 1998. Since the law has taken effect, the President of Latvia has carried out his or her rights, as enshrined in Section 45 of the Constitution, in accordance with the law on clemency.
Clemency cases are prepared for the President by the Clemency Service.
The law on clemency speaks to the following types of clemency:
1) Replacing the uncompleted phase of imprisonment with a different and lighter form of punishment;
2) Fully or partly freeing the petitioner from the basic punishment;
3) Fully or partly freeing the petitioner from additional punishment;
4) Expunging the punitive record of the petitioner entirely.
On December 1, 2011, the Saeima amended the law to remove the principle of replacing a death sentence with life imprisonment from it. The new version took effect on January 1, 2012.
The law states that the right to request clemency rests with people who:
1) Are serving their sentence in Latvia;
2) Have been convicted by a foreign court and transferred to the Republic of Latvia to serve the sentence without any requirement to say that clemency is not possible;
3) Have been convicted by a court in Latvia and transferred to another country to serve the sentence if the relevant foreign institution has agreed to accept a decision on clemency that is taken in Latvia;
4) Have completed their sentence in Latvia.
A request for clemency may be filed by the convicted person’s attorney, lawful representative, parents, children or spouse.
Requests for clemency must be addressed to the President.
The law on clemency states the terms under which people have the right to submit a request for clemency after the relevant court ruling has taken effect.
In those cases when someone has been convicted of a serious crime, a request for clemency can be submitted after one-half of the relevant prison term has been completed. In those cases when the conviction relates to a particularly serious crime, requests for clemency may be submitted only after two-thirds of the prison term have been completed. If a life sentence has been handed down, the request can be submitted after no less than 20 years of the prison term. In other cases, requests for clemency can be submitted as soon as the relevant court ruling has taken effect.
The classification of criminal offences is enshrined in Section 7 of the Criminal Law. A serious crime is a voluntary offence which, according to the Criminal Law, leads to a sentence of more than five years, but no more than 10 years, as well as an involuntary offence with respect to which the sentence can speak to a prison term of more than 10 years.
Particularly serious crimes are voluntary crimes with respect to which the Criminal Law speaks to a sentence of more than 10 years or life.
On April 16, 1999, the Saeima adopted a law on Protocol 6 of the European Convention on Fundamental Human Rights and Basic Freedoms of November 4, 1950. Section 2 of the protocol states that a country may use the death penalty only in relation to crimes committed during war or the threat of war; such sentences can be handed down only in accordance with the incidents referred to in the law and in line with all relevant regulations.
On October 13, 2011, the Saeima adopted a law on Protocol 13 of the European Convention on Fundamental Human Rights and Basic Freedoms of November 4, 1950, fully repealing the death penalty. The law took effect at the same time as the relevant amendments to the Criminal Law.
On December 1, 2011, the Saeima approved amendments to the criminal law to exclude the death penalty from the law entirely. The law took effect on January 1, 2012 (the previous version of the law spoke to the death penalty only for murder under particularly aggravating circumstances and even then only if the crime is committed during a time of war).
It is up to the President to decide whether a request for clemency is to be approved or rejected.
A repeat request for clemency may be submitted no sooner than six months after the President has decided to reject the previous requests Where the person has been convicted of a serious or particularly series crime, a repeat request for clemency may be submitted no sooner than one year after the previous request has been turned down, unless specific circumstances (serious illness, the person being the only lawful guardian or trustee of another, or other circumstances) prevail.
During the two terms in office of President Guntis Ulmanis, from July 7, 1993, until July 7, 1999, the Clemency Service considered 3,391 cases and approved various types of clemency for 219 convicted persons. Eight of these were requests from people who had been sentenced to death. In three cases, the President rejected the request for clemency, and the relevant people were executed. The last execution in Latvia occurred in January 1996, and two convicts whose requests for clemency the President had rejected were put to death. President Ulmanis did grant clemency to five people who had been sentenced to death, replacing the death penalty with life imprisonment.
On June 18, 1999, the Saeima elected Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga as President of Latvia, and she took office on July 8 of the same year. During her two terms in office, which continued until June 20, 2007, President Vīķe-Freiberga reviewed requests for clemency from 979 people and approved 204 of them.
During his term in office from July 8, 2007, until July 7, 2011, President Valdis Zatlers reviewed 1,241 requests for clemency and approved 122 of them.
Andris Bērziņš became President of Latvia on July 8, 2011. As of this writing, he has reviewed 782 requests for clemency and granted clemency to 41 convicts (as of May 21, 2013).
The law on clemency does not state the term during which requests for clemency are to be considered.
The decision of the President is sent by the Clemency Service to the institution which is responsible for carrying out the sentence, doing so no later than within five days after the decision has been taken. The decision is reported to the convict or to the person who submitted the request for clemency.