What Does The Commutation Process Look Like?
In the American justice system, everyone has rights. Defendants have the right to an attorney and a fair trial, and are innocent until proven guilty. Those convicted of crimes also have rights, including the ability to request that the state reevaluate their case. The commutation process is one of the most powerful ways to do this.
Commutation essentially means reducing the punishment for your crime. You might serve less time in prison, have a life sentence without parole commuted to one with the possibility of parole, or even get out of prison right away. For those facing long sentences, it’s easy to see why commutation is so appealing. But what is the commutation process in Oklahoma? And what’s the best way to navigate it?
Step 1: Application
The first step is to complete your application. You can type your information or use dark ink, but make sure you fill the form out completely, following the instructions exactly and adding an answer in every blank space. You’ll also need to provide additional information, including a copy of the judgment and sentence for each offense. You can mail or hand-deliver your application to the office of the Board – there is currently no online commutation process.
If your application is incomplete or the Board can’t read it, you’ll be notified within 10 days. You’ll then have 90 days to submit the missing information, or your application will be moved to “inactive” status and eventually dismissed. If your application is accepted, you’ll be notified when it’s scheduled for initial review, which takes place at a Board meeting.
Step 2: Notifications
When your application is accepted for review, the Board will notify various people. If your crime had victims, they’ll be notified. The district attorney in the county where you were prosecuted will also be notified, as well as the Oklahoma attorney general. All of those people will have access to your full commutation application.
At this stage, victims, district attorneys, and the attorney general can submit letters of support or protest against your commutation application. The Board will consider these during the next step. The Board will also post your request online as part of its Commutation Docket for the general public, although the public won’t be able to see the details of your application.
Step 3: Review
The Board reviews commutation applications during its regular meetings. Your case will be added to the docket (or schedule) for a meeting, and you’ll be notified of the date. You don’t have to do anything at this stage of the commutation process. The Board will meet, review your application, and consider any protests against it. Then they’ll vote on whether to pass your application to the next stage.
If your application is passed to stage two, the commutation hearing, you’ll be notified by the Department of Corrections. Victims and trial officials will also be notified again and have another opportunity to submit letters of support or protest.
Step 4: Hearing
Your hearing is the part of the commutation process where you get to appear before the Board, usually by video conferencing. During the hearing, you address the Board and they ask you questions. You can have two delegates with you, and one of them is allowed to speak on your behalf for five minutes. An experienced attorney is often a helpful delegate. Victims (or their representatives) and trial officials will also be allowed to speak for five minutes, separately from you and your delegates.
Note: There is an accelerated, single-stage docket for applicants whose crime has been reclassified from a felony to a misdemeanor under Oklahoma law. That means the Board can skip this stage and simply vote whether or not to recommend your commutation to the governor, without scheduling a hearing.
Step 5: Vote
After your hearing, the Board will vote on whether to approve or deny your commutation. There are no limits on the factors they can consider – the only rule is that they must be impartial – but they’ll typically look at things like history of good behavior, personal growth, any new evidence that has emerged, and letters of support and protest.
If they approve your commutation, they’ll send an official recommendation, your application, and any protest or support letters to the governor of Oklahoma. They’ll also notify victims and the general public.
Step 6: Approval
The governor has the final say on all applications for clemency (which includes reprieves, pardons, and commutations) in the State of Oklahoma. Once the Board’s recommendation arrives on the governor’s desk, there is no set time limit for approval. The governor will typically review many recommendations at once, which can mean a long wait. This is the part of the commutation process where you’ll finally receive approval or denial of your request for commutation.
If you’re approved, your sentence will be commuted! If you’re denied, you’ll have to wait three years to apply again, unless there’s been a change in the law you were convicted under, or the governor recommends you specifically.
The Bottom Line
Commutations can be life-changing, but they aren’t easy to get. The commutation process is long and confusing, and one little mistake on your application or at your hearing can mean a denial. An experienced lawyer like the Tulsa Expungement Guy can help you fill out your application, get letters of support, argue your case at your hearing, and navigate protests from victims and trial officials. Contact us today to see if you have a case for commuting your sentence.