Oklahoma's New Commutation Rules: Am I Still Eligible?

Oklahoma's New Commutation Rules: Am I Still Eligible?

If you have a loved one sitting in prison – or you’re there right now – getting out is all you can think about. If you’ve exhausted your appeals, you’re not out of options. Receiving a commutation can reduce the punishment you received for your crime. It’s a very appealing option for thousands of inmates, but Oklahoma’s recently changed rules can complicate the matter. Learn everything you need to know about the changes and how they might affect you.

Eligibility Changes for Commutation in Oklahoma

The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recently made changes to its administrative rules that affect eligibility for commutation. The changes received approval from the state legislature, which is the final step before they can go into effect.

So what’s new? The change requires prisoners to serve either 5 years in prison or one-third of their sentence, whichever is less, before they can seek commutation.

Before the rules changed, nearly anyone could seek commutation. The only eligibility rules were that the inmate had to:

  • Be in the custody of the Department of Corrections
  • Not be on probation or parole
  • Not have been convicted of impeachment

Now, the same rules apply, with the additional waiting period. The commutation process doesn’t change, and you also still have to wait 3 years to apply again if your application is denied. The new rules do add one condition for reapplication: If your application is denied twice, the Board can vote to bar you from reapplying for 5 years.

What Didn’t Make It In?

The changes to the commutation rules didn’t come easily. All rule changes have to undergo a period of public comment, and many advocates, Oklahomans, and commutation recipients made their voices heard. The Board ended up removing several more strict rules, which would have essentially required most inmates to have a recommendation from the governor or another official before applying.

Why the Changes?

Commutation is meant to correct unjust sentences. It’s typically only granted if you can prove that:

  • Your sentence was excessive at the time you were sentenced (for example, if you were very young or there was another mitigating factor)
  • A new law has changed the penalty for your crime (for example, if your crime was a felony when you committed it, but has been reclassified to a misdemeanor)
  • New facts have come to light in your case (for example, DNA evidence or prosecutor misconduct)

That didn’t stop inmates who don’t meet these conditions from applying, though. They were technically eligible, so why not give it a shot?

The Board’s Executive Director, Tom Bates, said this meant they received many applications that were baseless. The Board has also come under fire for not being transparent or impartial when deciding commutations. Criticism intensified after Lawrence Paul Anderson, whose sentence was commuted in 2019, killed three people after his release.

The new rules should weed out unreasonable requests and reduce the Board’s workload so they can focus on those who truly deserve commutation.

Will the Commutation Changes Affect You?

The changes to Oklahoma’s commutation rules probably won’t affect most inmates who would actually have a chance of winning approval. Here’s why.

To be granted commutation, you usually need to have a history of good behavior in prison and show that you’ve been rehabilitated. You might attend classes, volunteer, or join a work program. Building up a good record takes time.

It’s also more likely you’ll be granted commutation for lower-level crimes like misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies. Your sentence for those crimes is likely to be shorter, and you only have to serve either one-third of your sentence or five years, whichever is shorter. If your sentence is short, you still won’t have to wait long.

The Bottom Line

Commutation is a valuable approach many inmates can take to correct an excessive sentence. The process provides hope to many people each year. If you still qualify for commutation under Oklahoma’s new rules, it’s definitely worth pursuing. The Tulsa Expungement Guy will evaluate your case for free – contact us today to determine if you qualify.