Sentence Commutation 

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Commutation of Sentence for

People in Federal Prison

During the 9,500 days that I served in federal prison, I thought it strange that few people had hopes for a commutation of sentence. Ever since I read that the US Constitution endowed a US President to commute a sentence, I set my sights on qualifying.

My name is Michael Santos. Despite the efforts I made to build an “extraordinary and compelling” record that might advance me as a candidate for a commutation of sentence, I served every day of my sentence. Since my release, on August 12, 2013, the system has changed. President Obama and President Trump changed the policy for executive clemency, each in his own way. 

President Obama required people to go through a formal process, but he encouraged lawyers to help indigent people in prison. He even visited a federal prison and interacted with people serving sentences. President Trump, on the other hand, ignored the formal process. Instead of requiring people to go through the office of the US Pardon Attorney, he made decisions. If he thought a person shouldn’t serve time in prison, he would commute a sentence, overriding objections by the Department of Justice and his opponents.

I remember when he commuted the sentence of a corrupt sheriff from Arizona, or his friend Roger Stone. 

President Obama and President Trump did not only grant commutations to powerful people. They commuted the sentences of people who did not have strong political connections.

I would advise anyone going into the federal criminal justice system to begin thinking early about the extrajudicial strategies that could lead to relief from federal prison–including a potential commutation of sentence. First, understand the process.

Understanding Commutation

Commutation is different from a pardon. While a pardon forgives the crime, a commutation reduces the sentence without negating the conviction. It’s vital to understand this distinction as you prepare your petition.

Eligibility and Criteria

Before starting, ensure you meet the eligibility criteria for commutation. This typically includes serving a portion of your sentence and demonstrating exemplary behavior while incarcerated. Each case is unique, so understanding the specifics of your situation is crucial.

Gathering Supporting Documentation

A strong petition is supported by documentation. This includes records of good behavior, educational achievements, vocational training completed, and any rehabilitation programs. Letters of support from prison staff, fellow inmates, or community members who can vouch for your transformation are also valuable.

Crafting Your Narrative

Your petition should include a compelling narrative. That doesn’t mean arguing innocence. Rather, tell story of your journey in prison, your growth, and how a commutation would positively impact your life. Be honest, express remorse where applicable, and demonstrate how you have changed.

Submission Process

Once your petition is ready, submit it to the Office of the Pardon Attorney. Ensure that it adheres to all required guidelines and formats. Missing a detail here can lead to unnecessary delays. You can access the form through this link.

Staying Patient and Hopeful

The process to a commutation of sentence, or even waiting for a decision, can take years. Continue to engage in constructive activities and focus on your personal development.

Critical Thinking:

  • How would you engineer an adjustment strategy that might advance you as the best possible candidate for executive clemency?

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