Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt recently upheld the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board’s authority to recommend commutations of prison sentences for Oklahoma inmates, even in situations where an inmate was convicted of a serious or violent crime and is therefore required to serve at least 85% of his or her sentence before being up for parole. In criminal law, a commutation involves the reduction of legal penalties – particularly in terms of imprisonment – without actually nullifying the conviction, which is the case in a pardon. According to Pruitt’s decision, Governor Mary Fallin also has the power to grant such commutations. Although a commutation would be a favorable outcome for an Oklahoma inmate, the action is very rare and is typically only considered in exceptional circumstances. If you have been charged with an Oklahoma criminal offense, enlist the help of our knowledgeable criminal defense lawyers at Atkins & Markoff as soon as possible to protect your legal rights.
COMMUTATION: A REDUCTION OF LEGAL PENALTIES
Pruitt’s official opinion on the commutation matter was delivered last week, after OK City District Attorney David Prater questioned whether parole board members had acted illegally by placing inmates on a docket for early release consideration, while proceeding under a vague agenda that did not sufficiently inform the public. “Much of that controversy surrounds whether the Pardon and Parole Board violated the Open Meeting Act when making certain recommendations,” Pruitt noted in his ruling. “This opinion does not address that issue, nor does it address whether the commutation power was properly exercised in any particular instance. It only addresses the broader question of whether the commutation power exists.”
COMMUTATIONS ONLY CONSIDERED FOR EXCEPTIONAL CIRCUMSTANCES
“The official opinion of the attorney general affirms the board’s commutation authority under the Oklahoma Constitution and Oklahoma statute(s),” said the parole board in a prepared statement. “The board along with its staff will continue to work to ensure that the public and all those involved in the criminal justice system are aware of how the clemency process operates in our state.” In response to the attorney general’s decision, Governor Fallin’s press secretary issued a statement saying that, while she was pleased by Pruitt’s timely response, she agrees with the prosecutorial community that, although technically legal, commutations should only be considered under exceptional circumstances. “Once again, this issue points to the need for additional changes and reforms to address uncertainty in the parole process,” the press secretary noted. “The governor’s office is committed to working with the Pardon and Parole Board, the Legislature and the prosecutorial and law enforcement communities on policies that will deliver efficiencies in the process while protecting public safety.”
CONTACT OUR CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYERS FOR LEGAL HELP
The Oklahoma Attorney General’s decision ultimately established distinctions between pardons, paroles and commutations, and what type of authority the parole board, governor and Legislature have regarding each situation. While a pardon is “an outright official forgiveness (but not a forgetting) of an offense that cancels the original punishment,” the ruling declares, “generally speaking, a commutation is the substitution of a less severe punishment than was originally imposed.” On the other hand, a parole “does not change the original punishment, but rather suspends the punishment contingent on certain conditions being met.” Judging by these very different definitions alone, the Oklahoma criminal justice system can be extremely confusing, especially for someone without a background in law. If you are facing charges for a criminal offense in Oklahoma, contact our skilled criminal defense attorneys at Atkins & Markoff today.