What is a Commutation of Sentence?

Many people are curious about a commutation of sentence, and what it actually means. Basically, there is no impact on whether a defendant is guilty; it is simply a reduction in the sentence given a defendant by the governor of the state. A type of clemency, a state’s governor may reduce a defendant’s sentence, for example from 20 years to 10 years, however the governor must receive a recommendation from the state parole board before he or she can grant a commutation of sentence.

When the imprisonment is the result of a federal conviction, the only person who may commute the sentence is the President.

In addition to a reduced prison term, a commutation of sentence may also result in court-ordered fines being reduced.

A commutation of sentence does not restore civil rights lost due to a conviction as a pardon does, and does not forgive the defendant or eliminate a criminal record. Basically, a commutation of sentence is a reward for good behavior, however there have been occasions on which a defendant’s sentence was commuted because the sentence ordered by the court was considered unreasonably harsh, or a prisoner was not given credit for the time he/she had served by an unreasonable judge.

Other than sentences given for criminal offenses related to treason or impeachment, nearly any sentence may be commuted. In some cases, even those found guilty of murder and sentenced to death may have the sentence commuted, although the actual prison time will not be affected as it may only be commuted to a life without the possibility of parole sentence.

The laws vary from state to state, and there are cases in which a commutation of sentence is violated. For instance, here is a story about a woman who was serving a life sentence for a long list of drug crimes and who was granted a commutation of sentence by President Obama. The woman, a Texas grandmother, is now heading back to prison.

If you have questions regarding commutation of sentence, contact our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys who will provide legal guidance and support.