COMMUTATION OF SENTENCE
A commutation of sentence is the reduction of a defendant's sentence by a state's governor. It is a form of clemency. A commutation does not remove any legal disabilities of the defendant's conviction. It only has the effect of reducing the defendant's original sentence. A commutation has no effect on the defendant's guilt.
A state's governor has the power to commute a defendant's sentence based on the recommendation of the state's parole board. In most states, the governor may commute the defendant's sentence in all criminal cases, except cases involving treason or impeachment. The parole board must recommend a commutation of the defendant's sentence prior to the governor granting the commutation. However, the governor may initiate the process by requesting that the parole board make a recommendation regarding the commutation.
A defendant's sentence may be commuted after the defendant has been convicted of an offense. The defendant's sentence does need to be imposed in order for a state's governor to grant a commutation of the defendant's sentence. However, a commutation is usually only considered by the governor after the defendant has been incarcerated.
A defendant seeking a commutation of his or her sentence usually files an application with a state's parole board. The application usually contains recommendations from officials of the court in which the defendant was convicted. The appropriate officials are the sheriff, the prosecuting attorney, and the trial judge. The recommendations from the officials usually contain information regarding the reasons that the defendant's punishment was excessive, a recommendation regarding the length of the defendant's sentence, and the reasons for the reduction of the defendant's sentence.
A state's governor is only authorized to grant a commutation of a defendant's sentence based on the recommendation of the state's parole board. If the parole board does not recommend commutation, the governor cannot consider the defendant's application. If the parole board recommends commutation, the governor may accept or reject the parole board's recommendation. If the governor grants commutation, the governor must file written reasons for the commutation. The commutation is effective immediately. It does not need to be accepted by the defendant.
In states that allow the death penalty, a governor has the power to commute a death sentence to life imprisonment or to an appropriate maximum penalty. Inmates who are on death row may file applications for a commutation of their death sentence without requesting recommendations from officials of the court in which they were sentenced to death.
In some states, commutation may be used to provide credit to a defendant for time that the defendant spent in some other form of confinement, such as a hospital, a mental institution, or a jail, before he or she was transferred to prison. Commutation may also be used for time that the defendant spent out of jail on a medical reprieve. Medical reprieves are generally not credited toward the defendant's sentence. Therefore, the defendant must file an application for commutation based on the medical reprieve.
In some states, commutation may be used to provide credit to a defendant for time that the defendant spent in jail before or after he or she was convicted of an offense. This is most often used when a sentencing judge fails to give credit to the defendant for time that the defendant served in jail before or after he or she was convicted of an offense. Commutation may also be used for the remission of fines and forfeited bail bonds. Fines and forfeited bail bonds are most often remitted based on medical reasons, financial hardship, or the defendant's inability to support his or her family.
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