The following Q & A is designed to provide general information about the program. Answers may vary depending on specific circumstances.
Commutation of Sentence Application
If you or someone you know is applying for a commutation, it’s important to understand what a commutation of sentence is, who is eligible to apply and the application process. A commutation is one of the three types of clemency hearings conducted by the Arizona's Board of Executive Clemency. The other two types of hearings are pardons and reprieves. Clemency is considered an act of mercy by the leader of the executive branch of government (Governor). In considering whether to recommend a commutation to the Governor, a Board member may base their decision on various factors such as compassion, authentic rehabilitation and sincere remorse, as well as statutory requirements. In certain cases, only statutory requirements may be considered. If a majority of the board approves a clemency request, its recommendation is sent to the governor. The Governor makes the final decision. In Arizona, the Governor cannot grant clemency without the Board’s recommendation. The Board has no legal authority to grant a commutation; it can only make a recommendation to the Governor.
A commutation is a shortening of a sentence or set of consecutive sentences. For those committing offenses after January 01, 1994, Arizona law provides that the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency “may make recommendations to the governor for commutation of sentence after finding by clear and convincing evidence that the sentence imposed is clearly excessive given the nature of the offense and the record of the offender and that there is a substantial probability that when released the offender will conform the offender's conduct to the requirements of the law (A.R.S. 31-402).” If the majority of the Board votes favorably, then a recommendation for commutation is made to the Governor. The Board is under no statutory requirements as to reasons why it might recommend a commutation if the offense was committed prior to January 01, 1994. There is no appeal to a denial of a commutation of sentence at any stage of the process, and neither the Governor nor the Board is legally required to provide a reason for denial of a recommended commutation.
An Inmate is eligible to apply for commutation if:
- The inmate has a sentence of more than three (3) years and has served at least two years of the sentence at the time of application, including jail credits applied to the sentence;
- The sentencing judge issued a special order. Arizona Revised Statute 13-603(L) allows the court to issue a special order at time of sentencing only if it believes that a sentence is clearly excessive. The order will allow the person sentenced to petition the Board for a commutation of sentence with ninety days after they are committed to the Department of Corrections. The court will provide the Board in writing its specific reasons concluding that the sentence is excessive;
- Inmates who are considered terminally ill with less than four (4) months to live may also apply. Medical documentation from the Arizona Department of Corrections’ designated physician must state the diagnosis and that the inmate has less than four (4) months to live; and/or
- Inmates facing imminent execution may receive a commutation hearing prior to the date of execution
Applications must be submitted through the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) and are then screened (except category “d”) for eligibility by ADC’s Time Computation Unit. If deemed eligible, it will be transferred to the Board of Executive Clemency and the Board’s staff will compile the necessary information, schedule a hearing date and make required notifications based on statute, including to victim’s or victim’s family, the county attorney and the sentencing judge. Applications submitted under category “a” (listed above) will be first scheduled as a Phase I hearing. The other categories will automatically be scheduled as a Phase II hearing.
Inmates will be determined ineligible if:
- The inmate has not served at least two years of their sentence, including jail credits on the specific sentence included in the commutation application;
- The inmate has a sentence of three years or less;
- The inmate is within one year of earliest release eligibility at the time of application; and/or
- They have been deemed ineligible based on statutory requirements imposed by the Arizona State Legislature.
Applications are returned to the inmate if:
- The responses on the application are not clear or complete;
- The Board of Executive Clemency’s official Commutation of Sentence Application was not used or the format was significantly altered, and/or
- After review, it was determined that the inmate was ineligible to apply.
The Phase I Hearing is an in-absentia hearing at the Board office. The Board will vote to either move the matter forward to a Phase II hearing or deny any further action. Members of the public, victims, inmate's family and supporters, etc. are permitted to attend the Phase I hearing but there is no “call to the public” for testimony to the Board. The order of hearings is set by the panel chairperson on the day of the hearing. Members of the public, including attorneys, may attend and observe a Phase I hearing but will not be permitted to speak. Only the board members will discuss the application and make a determination of action by vote. During the Phase I hearing, members discuss the inmate’s information provided in the application itself, sentencing documentation, Presentence Investigation Report, past criminal history, facts of the offense(s) presented to the court, plea agreement if applicable, institutional behavior record, and any other documents provided by officials and/or interested parties. It is the responsibility of the applicant to submit any and all programming, educational or other treatment documentation that he/she wishes to have considered by the Board. After carefully discussing the matter, the members will vote to determine if the application should be elevated to a Phase II hearing.
If an inmate’s commutation request is moved forward to Phase II, a new hearing date will be scheduled, usually within 60 days of Phase I, and all proper notifications will again be made to the statutorily required persons and/or parties. Members incorporate the same information or documents previously reviewed in Phase I but will focus their attention on direct communication with the inmate as well as testimony from those present and wishing to speak. After considering all the facts and testimony, the Board conducts a final vote and will encompass (if applicable) the criteria set forth in A.R.S. 31-402. If a recommendation is not made, the members may include the elements of A.R.S. 31-403 which allows for the Board to extend re-application times for serious offenses (A.R.S. 31-403 applies to offenses committed after January 01, 2006).
If the Board recommends commutation, a letter will be drafted by one of the members and sent to the Governor along with all the documents reviewed by members. The letter will incorporate information about the crime, the Board’s discussion, and the members’ reasoning for the recommendation. All the documentation provided to the Board as well as the audio of the hearing will be transmitted with the letter. This should take place no later than 30 days from the hearing date. In the case of an Imminent Danger of Death applicant, a recommendation to the Governor will be transmitted within 7 days from the date of the hearing and vote of the Board.
Any recommendation for commutation that is made unanimously by the members present and voting, will be acted upon by the Governor within ninety days from the acknowledge date that the Governor receives the Board’s recommendation. If not acted on within 90 days of date-stamped receipt by the Governor, and the recommendation was made as a result of a unanimous vote of Board members, the recommendation automatically becomes effective. For majority votes made by the Board, the Governor has no specific time frame within which to act.
Based upon applicable law and type of offense, some inmates may re-apply every three years and some may be restricted to a set number of years according to statute (A.R.S. 31-403) and, in some cases, the Board’s determination if statutorily applicable.
An Arizona Governor’s pardon is the ultimate relief from the penalties and disabilities associated with a criminal conviction. Obtaining a pardon is a distinct achievement and the applicant should demonstrate to the Board of Executive Clemency that they have earned the Governor’s consideration. You will be asked to explain why you are seeking a pardon. It should be more than simply stating that you want to “clear your record.” NOTE: You do not need a Governor's pardon to reclaim your right to vote or obtain gun rights. Your rights MAY BE restored after successfully completing your sentence and applying to the Sentencing Court for a “Restoration of Civil Rights.” To obtain further information or forms, contact or visit the website of the Superior Court’s Clerk of the Court within the county of your conviction.
Only the Governor can grant a pardon, but first it must be reviewed and recommended to the Governor by the Board of Executive Clemency. The Board has the exclusive authority to hear the individual requesting the pardon. If the majority of the Board votes affirmatively, the recommendation will be forwarded to the Governor for a final decision. Following a recommendation from the Board of Executive Clemency, the Governor has complete discretion in deciding whether to grant a pardon. Please note, a pardon is not granted to every person who applies.
What are the benefits and limitations of a pardon? Simply put, an Arizona Governor's pardon restores many of the rights of citizenship that someone loses through criminal conviction. This does not include the right to bear arms, unless specifically authorized to do so in the pardon. A pardon sends a very powerful message to society that you have led a useful, productive and law-abiding life following your conviction. Most individuals seek pardons for either personal satisfaction or for professional licensing, bonding or other employment purposes. However, a pardon may not guarantee employment within a sought career field. A Governor’s pardon may enhance your opportunities for employment but DO NOT assume the pardon will make you eligible for employment. If you are considering applying for a pardon in order to obtain a particular type of employment or a license, you should first check with the employer or licensing agency to see if it would be helpful to do so.
A Governor's Pardon does not provide complete relief from all legal penalties and disabilities. In Arizona, a pardon does not expunge a criminal conviction. Here are some limitations and restrictions:
- Because a Governor's Pardon doesn't seal or destroy your criminal arrest record, you must still report your criminal arrests and convictions when asked if you have any arrests or convictions. You can, however, state that you have since been pardoned.
- An Arizona Governor cannot pardon a conviction that you suffered in another state or in federal court.
- A Governor's pardon doesn't necessarily avoid or prevent immigration issues such as deportation or removal.
Anyone convicted of a felony in the State of Arizona can apply for a pardon. The conviction(s) for which the pardon is being requested must be specifically stated. If the applicant is currently incarcerated within the Arizona Department of Corrections, he/she should determine if they are statutorily eligible to apply for a pardon.
Once all your required paperwork has been submitted and your hearing has been scheduled, Board members will review your paperwork and conduct a hearing with you. Here are some of the factors they MAY consider:
- Reasons for pardon;
- Nature of the offense;
- Amount of time that has passed since completing the sentence;
- Applicant’s overall criminal history and any subsequent arrests;
- Whether the sentencing court granted a “Conviction Set-Aside and/or Restoration of Civil Rights;
- Your rehabilitation efforts while incarcerated and/or following your release;
- Whether the applicant is delinquent on any outstanding fees, restitution and/or other obligations, i.e. traffic tickets, child support payments
- Your disciplinary record during your incarceration as well as any probation / parole supervision period,
- Community contributions since release from sentence; and
- Reference letters submitted in support of application.
Seeking a Governor’s pardon is a lengthy and time consuming process. Applicants may obtain the pardon application and information on line or make a request to the Board of Executive Clemency. Upon receipt of the request, the Board staff will provide you a packet of information detailing the requirements and the application. It is imperative that you read the instructions carefully and obtain all the required supplements. You will not be scheduled for a hearing until all the required documentation has been received. It is imperative that you advise the Board of any changes in address or contact phone numbers. For further information please see the Board’s detailed instructions located on the website at www.azboec.gov and in the application package.
If the vote is affirmative, one of the Board members will draft a letter to the Governor requesting consideration that you be granted a pardon. This letter must outline the compelling reasons for the Board’s recommendation. You will receive a copy of this letter. The Governor may respond to this recommendation at any time. There are no designated timeframes.
If the Board votes not to recommend a pardon for an applicant or if the governor denies a pardon, the applicant may apply again for a pardon in three (3) years from the date of the Board's decision.