Recently the Washington Post released an article stating that President Obama has commuted the federal sentences of 944 inmates during his time in office. Unless you practice criminal law or just have an inclination to want to understand criminal terms, you may ask what exactly is a commutation of a sentence?
To understand a commutation of a sentence you have to start with "Clemency." As a last resort to the judicial process a person convicted of a crime can ask for any of the remedies available under "Clemency." These include a pardon of a sentence, commutation of a sentence, amnesty or even a reprieve. All of these terms fall under the umbrella of a "Clemency." Clemency is not a right but is purely at the discretion of the authority that can provide this remedy and it is considered an act of rehabilitation or forgiveness. The authority to grant clemency for federal crimes lies with the executive branch, specifically the President. With state crimes, it can vary by jurisdiction, but typically lies with the Governor.
As a form of clemency, a commutation of a sentence reduces the punishment for the crime. A commuted sentence generally replaces the original sentence but it is different from a pardon in that a pardon actually "forgives" the crime and can reinstate all rights of a citizen. A commutation generally does not restore any of the civil rights lost with the conviction. Commuted sentences can be a reward for good behavior, but can also be to reduce an unreasonably harsh sentence.
Why would a President or Governor commute a sentence? There are many reasons, however the bottom line is to give a second chance to individuals who have lengthy sentences and have justified the chance by exhibiting good behavior, and in some circumstances the harshness of the sentence can be a deciding factor. This second chance is not just handed out as the convicted individual must apply for the clemency, show that he or she is deserving and then hope that they fall within the less than 1% of the prison population that receives this tremendous opportunity.
If you or someone you know have been convicted of a crime and want to pursue your options in determining if that crime can come off your record, contact the experienced attorneys at Parkerson Santel, PLLC for a free consultation.