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Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board members seek attorney general's opinion on sentence commutation

The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board wants a legal opinion on whether its members can commute the sentences of inmates, including those sentenced for 85 percent crimes.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Modified: August 13, 2012 at 9:55 pm •  Published: August 14, 2012

The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board is asking the state attorney general to issue an opinion whether inmates, including those sentenced to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence, are eligible for commutation.

Terry Jenks, executive director of the Parole Board, wrote in his request Monday to Attorney General Scott Pruitt that the state constitution tasks board members “to make an impartial investigation and study of applicants for commutations, pardons or paroles, and by a majority vote make its recommendations to the governor of all deemed worthy of clemency.”

DA questions process

The request comes after Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater alleged the board has considered parole for ineligible inmates. He said the state's “truth in sentencing law” passed by lawmakers requires that at least 85 percent of an inmate's sentence be served before parole is possible.

Parole board members don't list the names of offenders proposed for commutation under the agenda item “docket modifications” in their monthly meetings; instead they bring the names up during that point of the meeting.

If three of the five members vote to consider any of the inmates for commutation, the board schedules a hearing and lists the inmates' names as well as notifies prosecutors and victim family members who signed up for notification at least 20 days in advance.

Jenks wrote that state law gives board members the authority to consider an offender “out of the normal processing procedure” with the concurrence of at least three members. That gives the board the authority to hear offenders on an earlier docket, he said.

If the board recommends commutation — the governor's ability to shorten or modify prison sentences — it's up to the governor to grant it, according to the state constitution.

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