When a person is convicted of a crime, he or she is sentenced to a set number of years in prison based on sentencing guidelines for the crime. Except in the case of those sentenced to life without parole (LWOP), many people sentenced to prison in Oklahoma will have the opportunity to be released from prison prior to the completion of the full term.
Parole is a form of conditional release that allows an inmate who has achieved certain criteria and who is deemed to be at low risk of re-offending to be released from prison prior to completion of his or her sentence. Parole, however, is conditional release, and any person out on parole must adhere to strict terms of release. Parole violations can quickly land a person back in the state penitentiary.
The terms probation, parole, pardon, and commutation are frequently confused, but they are quite distinct actions.
Probation occurs in place of jail or prison during a deferred sentence or a suspended sentence. In a deferred sentence, a defendant pleads guilty to a crime, but the judge defers, or delays, sentencing until the defendant has an opportunity to complete probation. If the defendant successfully adheres to the terms of his or her probation, the court changes the plea to “Not Guilty,” and the judge dismisses the case. Violating probation can result in a motion to accelerate the judgment, typically ending with the defendant’s conviction and sentence to prison.
A suspended sentence is similar in that the defendant gets probation instead of all or part of the prison sentence. However, a defendant who is given a suspended sentence has been convicted of a crime. Violating probation can result in a motion to revoke the suspended sentence and send the person to prison for the remainder of the term.
Like probation, parole is a form of conditional release that requires the paroled person to adhere to specified guidelines, including obeying all laws, getting alcohol or drug treatment, GPS monitoring, checking in with a parole officer, and more. Violating parole is a crime, and being accused of parole violation can lead to additional prison time.
Unlike probation and parole, a pardon does not release a person from jail or prison. Rather, it is generally granted to a person who has already completed his or her sentence. A pardon is official forgiveness for an offense and recognition that the convicted person has since made amends and changed his or her life. While a pardon does not clear a record, indicate innocence, or release a person from prison, it can be an important tool in obtaining an expungement.
A commutation is the shortening of a person’s sentence. A person sentenced to 20 years in prison may have his or her sentence commuted to “time served,” potentially allowing him or her to be released from prison. A commutation is not a conditional release. It is a reduction in the sentence.
In general, an inmate may become eligible for parole consideration after he or she has served at least one-third of the sentence. However, there are more than 20 felony offenses deemed “85 Percent Crimes” by the Oklahoma legislature. Anyone convicted of one of these offenses, which are stipulated in 21 O.S. 13.1 must first complete 85 percent of his or her sentence before becoming eligible for parole.
Not everyone who is eligible for parole, however, will be granted parole. Rather, the inmate and his or her attorney will appear before the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board at a parole hearing to determine whether or not the parole will be granted.
The Board looks at several characteristics of the inmate and his or her case. Among the factors considered include things like various versions of the offense, other convictions, substance abuse, mental health history, treatment programs, disciplinary record, risk assessment, and more.
At the parole hearing, the “offender’s delegation,” or people authorized to speak on the inmate’s behalf, is comprised of two people, only one of whom is allowed to speak. The person speaking on behalf of the inmate is given only two minutes to speak.
The two minutes afforded to make an argument in favor of parole are contrasted by the five minutes given to the victim or his or her representative, and to the district attorney, who is not limited by time in his or her argument against parole.
For this reason, it is important that the offender’s delegate is an experienced parole lawyer, who can make the convincing argument on the offender’s behalf in such a brief time.
If you are an Oklahoma inmate who is approaching parole eligibility, or if you have been released on parole but accused of parole violations, contact an attorney who can help. At Law Firm of Oklahoma our attorneys have helped those convicted of crimes in Oklahoma to be released on parole or to be granted a pardon, and we offer quality defense representation in cases of parole violation or probation violation. Call (405) 608-4990 to see how we can help you.