Individuals who have been convicted of a criminal offense and are currently serving their sentence in a California county jail or state prison can petition the governor to have their sentence commuted, or reduced, under certain circumstances. Commutation of a sentence is typically only granted in situations where the sentence imposed upon a convicted defendant is unfairly harsh, given the circumstances. If you were convicted of a criminal offense in California and you believe your sentence was excessive or overly punitive, either because of your young age at the time the crime was committed, because of the law that was in effect at the time of sentencing, or for some other reason, you may be able to have your sentenced commuted. At Pat Ford Appeals, we assist clients with all legal matters relating to post-conviction petitions, including petitions for clemency, and we can review your case to determine whether you are eligible for commutation. Contact our firm today to find out how we can help.
California Commutation Attorneys
The state of California is notoriously tough on crime and the sentences imposed on convicted offenders can be harsh, and while efforts have been made in recent years to reduce the prison population, there are still more than 115,000 people behind bars in California. Some of the inmates serving lengthy prison sentences in California may be eligible for early release or may be able to get their sentence reduced by petitioning the governor for a commutation of sentence, which is a type of petition for post-conviction relief. At Pat Ford Appeals, we know how devastating it can be for convicted defendants to be sentenced to years or decades behind bars, especially when the sentence is unfairly harsh, and we are committed to defending the rights of those who have been the victim of excessive prison sentences. The process of applying for commutation in California is rife with challenges and having a qualified appeals attorney on your side from the beginning can significantly improve your chances of success. Attorney Pat Ford has years of experience handling criminal appeals in California and he knows what it takes to get a commutation application approved. When you hire Pat Ford, he will be your trusted legal advocate and will put his expertise to work for you, confidently guiding you through every step of the California commutation process.
What is a Commutation?
In criminal law, a commutation is a type of executive clemency, or leniency, which can only be granted by a public official, such as a governor or the president of the United States, and there are certain conditions that must be met in order for a prisoner to be eligible for clemency. More specifically, a commutation of sentence is a reduction in a sentence or punishment resulting from a criminal conviction at the state level. Unlike a criminal appeal, a commutation is not meant to reverse a conviction or change a finding of guilt. Rather, it can reduce or eliminate a sentence, or make a prisoner immediately eligible for parole. Only the governor can grant a commutation in California, and this form of clemency is only available to individuals currently serving a sentence for a state criminal conviction.
Applying for a Commutation
Any person convicted of a criminal offense in California is eligible for a commutation, with certain important exceptions. These exceptions include government officials who were impeached and any convictions for military crimes, violations of federal law in the United States, or violations of the law in another state or country. Prisoners who have been convicted of two or more felonies are also not eligible for commutation unless a majority of justices in the California Supreme Court approve a commuted sentence. Even if you have been sentenced to death or life imprisonment, you can apply for a commutation and have your sentence reduced by the governor. In order to apply for a commutation of sentence in California, you must:
- Submit a completed Notice of Intent to Apply for Clemency to the district attorney in the county of the conviction for which you are seeking a commutation
- Submit a completed Commutation Application to the Governor’s Office
- Submit an authorization for release of medical information if your grounds for commutation is a terminal illness or a severe and chronic disability
If you submitted a commutation application to a previous governor and your application was not granted, you can reapply by submitting a Reapplication for Clemency Form.
The Commutation Process in California
It is important that you understand each of the steps required in the California commutation process so you can improve your chances of having your application approved by the governor. Generally speaking, the commutation process follows these steps:
Notifying the District Attorney
The first step in the commutation process is notifying the district attorney of your intent to apply for a commutation of sentence. With some exceptions, the D.A. must be given 10 days’ notice before the governor can act upon an application for commutation. An exception is if you face an imminent risk of death or if your term of imprisonment expires within 10 days.
Acknowledgement of Receipt
The D.A. will return the acknowledgement of receipt directly to the governor’s office and may also submit a written recommendation for or against commuting the sentence. The D.A. may also notify the victim(s) of the crime for which you were convicted, in which case they may also submit a recommendation to the governor.
Submitting the Application
When you submit your commutation application to the governor, you will also have to provide other information, including a list of your convictions and the circumstances of the convictions, the reasons you are seeking a commutation, a statement demonstrating why you believe a commutation should be granted, and a statement of any payments you made to anyone else to assist you in obtaining a commutation.
Referring the Application to the Board of Parole Hearings
If the governor decides to act on your commutation application, he will refer the application to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s Board of Parole Hearings division for investigation. The Parole Board will then recommend to the governor whether the request for commutation should be granted.
Granting the Application
If your commutation application is granted, the commutation will be filed with the California Secretary of State and reported to the California Legislature. Your criminal record will also be amended to show that the sentence for the conviction was commuted. Remember that the governor is not obligated to grant your application, nor is he even required to review the application at all.
When are Commutations Granted?
Commutation applications are investigated by the Parole Board, which is responsible for reviewing the applicant’s criminal history, court and police records, records relating to the applicant’s incarceration, and other pertinent information in order to determine whether a commuted sentence is warranted. Under the Constitution of California, the governor holds absolute authority in deciding whether to grant a commutation and will generally assess the following factors when considering a commutation application:
- The nature and severity of the offense
- The sentence imposed
- The age of the offense and the age of the individual at the time the offense occurred
- Harm suffered by victims
- The individual’s need for a commutation
- The individual’s age at the time of the application
- The individual’s conduct since the offense, including whether he or she has participated in available treatment or rehabilitation programs
- The number of years served in jail or prison
- The individual’s plans upon release from custody
- The potential impact of a commutation on the community
There is no specific set of factors required for commuting a sentence in the state of California, which is why it is helpful to have a knowledgeable criminal appeals attorney on your side who has experience handling commutations in California.
How Does Intimate Partner Battering Affect a Commutation Application?
Under California law, when investigating an application for commutation of sentence, the Parole Board may consider whether the convicted defendant was a victim of “intimate partner battering.” As California Penal Code 4801 PC states:
(a) The Board of Parole Hearings may report to the Governor, from time to time, the names of any and all persons imprisoned in any state prison who, in its judgment, ought to have a commutation of sentence or be pardoned and set at liberty on account of good conduct, or unusual term of sentence, or any other cause, including evidence of intimate partner battering and its effects. For purposes of this section, “intimate partner battering and its effects” may include evidence of the nature and effects of physical, emotional, or mental abuse upon the beliefs, perceptions, or behavior of victims of domestic violence if it appears the criminal behavior was the result of that victimization.
In other words, if you were the victim of domestic violence or abuse by an “intimate partner,” which California defines as a spouse, cohabitant, registered domestic partner, fiancé(e), boyfriend/girlfriend or co-parent, this fact may be taken into consideration during the review of your commutation application.
Benefits of Commutation in California
When the governor commutes a sentence, the original sentence is either reduced or eliminated. In most cases, a commutation is used to either secure an inmate’s immediate release from jail or prison, commute a death sentence to a life sentence, or help a prisoner get a parole hearing before he or she would otherwise be eligible for parole. A commutation can also reduce or eliminate a fine or another penalty ordered by the court as part of a convicted defendant’s sentence. It is important to note that a commutation in California does not overturn a criminal conviction or reverse a finding of guilt, nor does it restore any civil rights that were revoked as a result of a conviction. Furthermore, the governor does not have the authority to commute a sentence for a federal criminal offense. If you are seeking clemency for a federal criminal conviction, you would instead be required to petition the President of the United States for a pardon.
How a Criminal Appeals Attorney Can Help
Getting a criminal sentence commuted by the governor is not an easy process. In fact, the governor has no obligation to even consider an application for clemency, and there is no timetable for this process, which means when you submit an application for commutation of a sentence, you generally have no idea how long it will take for the application to be reviewed, if it is reviewed at all, and a decision to be made. As you can see, it is imperative that your commutation application is as strong and convincing as possible, so you can have the best chance of your application being granted by the governor. There are also important requirements to consider when filing a commutation application in California. For instance, you are required to serve notice to the district attorney in the county in which you were convicted before submitting your commutation application, and you will have to submit a signed, notarized affidavit indicating that you did so. Any deviation from the process of applying for commutation in California can ruin your chances of getting your application granted and your sentenced reduced.
Contact Pat Ford Appeals for Legal Help
In response to overcrowding in prisons, the state of California has made efforts to reduce the penalties associated with certain criminal convictions and allow more prisoners to qualify for early release from prison. If you or someone you love was convicted of a crime in California and unfairly sentenced to an overly harsh term of imprisonment, contact our criminal appeals lawyers at Pat Ford Appeals for a free consultation. You may qualify for a commutation of sentence, in which case you could get your sentence reduced or eliminated or become eligible for early parole. Applying for commutation of a sentence can be a long and complicated process, and there is no guarantee that your application will be approved or even considered by the governor. That is why you need an experienced criminal appeals lawyer on your side who is familiar with the law in California and knows the best way to get a commutation application granted by the governor. Contact Pat Ford Appeals today to discuss your legal options.