Commutations in Nevada Law: Definition, Eligibility, and Process

Commutations are a form of relief from criminal sentences that can be granted by the governor. This type of relief is available in Nevada law and can be applied for in certain circumstances, with potentially life-changing results for defendants who receive them.

Most people only have contact with the legal system via social media or television so terms like commutation may not mean anything to the average person.

However, when we do hear terms like commutation they are usually associated with high-profile cases that are played out on TV or a documentary about a crime story.

Usually, these cases involve the death penalty and having a death penalty conviction committed to a life sentence without parole.

What Are Commutations

Commutation is defined as having a defendant’s sentence, either prison or parole, reduced.

For example, the State Board of Pardons Commissioners can reduce a defendant’s 20-year prison sentence to 15 years.

The Board can also reduce a death sentence to life without parole.

The way to get a commuted sentence is to have The Board of Pardons Commissioners review your case and your sentence.

A majority vote is needed to have a commutation of sentence approved.

The Board of Pardons Commissioners consists of the:

  • The Governor of Nevada
  • The Attorney General, and
  • The Seven Justices of The Nevada Supreme Court

How Do You Apply for a Sentence Commutation in Nevada

A defendant who has been convicted of a crime must apply with the Board of Pardons Commissioners.

The application is available and may be obtained at the correctional facility you are housed at or online.

The commutation application must include:

  • The name of the defendant
  • The court where the defendant’s case was tried
  • The sentence the defendant was given for the conviction
  • The reasons the board should reduce the sentence; and
  • Any other information that is relevant to the case

The application must be submitted to the board at least 90 days prior to the board’s next meeting to be considered at that meeting. The only exception is if the Governor makes an exception.

If your commutation case is heard at the Board meeting, the Board will notify the district attorney and judge who handled your original conviction (unless it is a death penalty case). The district attorney and judge can give written statements to the Board about your original conviction.

This information can include any facts of the original case and conviction. Also, the public can send statements to the Board regarding their opposition or support of the commutation of a sentence.

A sentence reduction will only be approved if 4 members of the Board and the Governor approve of the commutation.

Who Is Eligible for a Commutation of Sentence in Nevada

To be eligible for commutation review in Nevada you must be currently:

  • In prison
  • On Parole
  • Sentenced to The Death Penalty
  • Sentenced to life without the possibility of Parole

People who have been convicted of Treason are eligible to have their sentences commuted.

Commutation for Prisoners

If you are serving a prison sentence, you may not have your sentence commuted if you become eligible for parole within one year after the last board meeting.

Extraordinary circumstances are the only way there is an exception to this rule.

Commutation for Parolees

Convicted defendants on Parole may be eligible for a sentence reduction if either:

  • A person was convicted of a crime and sentenced to life in prison and has served at least 10 years of consecutive time on parole; or
  • They were not sentenced to life in prison and served one-half of the sentence on parole

Even though a person might be eligible for a sentence commutation the Board will not consider reducing a parolee’s sentence unless:

  • The State Board of Parole Commissioners refused to file a petition on behalf of the defendant for a modification of sentence despite the support of the Division of Parole and Probation of The Department of Public Safety; or
  • The court denied the petition for modification

Even though you may not be eligible as a Parolee you are encouraged to apply since The Board can consider commutation applications of people who are considered ineligible.

This is called special consideration and The Board can pick and choose what cases of this group they will consider.

Commutation for Death Penalty Cases

These are the most high-profile cases that we see commutations for.

The Board may consider a commutation of a death sentence into a sentence that allows a sentence with parole if either:

  • The defendant was convicted of first-degree murder while under the age of 18; or
  • The defendant was convicted before July 1st, 1995

The Board will not consider commutation of Death Sentences unless the defendant has exhausted all other post-conviction relief such as the appeals process.

Commuting Sentences for Prisoners Sentenced to Life Without the Possibility of Parole

Like commutation for death penalty cases the Board, will only consider a commutation of a life sentence without the possibility of parole if either;

  • The Defendant was less than 18 when the crime was committed; or
  • The defendant was convicted before July 1st, 1995

Commutations for Defendants Sentenced Under Outdated Laws

The law changes all the time, new laws replace old, outdated ones or new laws are added to existing laws.

Since this is the case people sentenced to prison or parole under outdated laws may be serving sentences that are longer than the current law allows. When this happens defendants are encouraged to apply for a commutation of sentence.

The Board will not commute a sentence based on the outdated law alone but will consider the entire merit of the case instead.

What Is the Cost of Applying for a Commutation Application?

There is no fee to apply for a commutation of a sentence in Nevada.

Notice to Victims of Crimes When Sentences Are Commuted

Victims of crimes are entitled to know what goes on with the person who is convicted of the crime against them.

The Board will notify any crime victim of the defendant seeking commutation by mail as long as the victim has provided an address.

Odds of Getting a Commutation

Each case is different and getting the Board to hear your case let alone commute your sentence can be daunting.

You can apply for a commutation without legal representation; however, it is best to consult with an attorney who specializes in post-conviction relief and who can compose a stronger application with a better chance of getting your sentence commuted.

Commutations Versus Pardons in Nevada

Many people often confuse commutations and pardons, but they are distinctly different. While a commutation reduces a person’s sentence for a crime they were convicted of, a pardon grants forgiveness for a past crime after the completion of the sentence, typically after a considerable period of time.

It is worth noting that a pardon in Nevada not only forgives the crime but also restores a person’s gun rights, whereas a commutation does not have the same effect.

Call The Defenders

If you or a loved one has been convicted of a crime and are seeking post-conviction relief, your best bet is to contact an experienced attorney who specializes in criminal law and defense.

The Defenders has experts on staff who specialize in post-conviction relief and applications including sentence commutation, appeals and even writs of habeas corpus.

There are many avenues to post-conviction relief and your lawyer can guide you through the process and advise you about what options are available to you and in what order you need to apply for them. Call today to speak with an expert in the commutation of sentences in Nevada.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are commutations?

Commutation is one form of post-conviction relief available in Nevada. It involves reducing the severity of a person’s sentence, either by shortening the length of time to be served or by changing the type of punishment. However, it doesn’t negate the conviction itself.

Who can apply for a commutation of a sentence in Nevada?

Any individual who has been convicted and is currently serving a sentence in Nevada can apply for a commutation of their sentence. However, the decision to grant a commutation is at the discretion of the Nevada Board of Pardons Commissioners.

Does a commutation restore my gun rights?

No, a commutation does not restore your gun rights; only pardons will do that. However, it is worth noting that in Nevada, pardons may be granted after a lengthy period of time following the completion of one’s sentence.

Is there a fee to apply for a commutation?

No, there is no fee to apply for a commutation in Nevada.

What are the chances of getting a commutation in Nevada?

Commutations are not granted frequently and depend largely on the individual circumstances of each case. The Board considers various factors before making a decision, making it difficult to predict the outcome.

What happens after a commutation is granted in Nevada?

Once a commutation is granted, the individual’s sentence is reduced as specified by the Board. However, the conviction remains on the individual’s record.

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