Governor Brad Henry signed a bill last Friday that requires crime victims and witnesses to be notified that an offenders sentence could be commuted to a lesser sentence.
SB , which is authored by Senator Jerry L. Smith, RTulsa, adds to the information that district attorneys offices are already responsible for providing to victims and witnesses.
Under this measure, victims or witnesses will be granted another right that I believe they should have. Many people are unaware that the Governor is allowed to commute a sentence upon recommendation from the State Pardon and Parole Board. I think the victims and witnesses need to know that, Senator Smith said.
Under current law, district attorneys offices are responsible for notifying victims and witnesses of scheduled court appearances, as well as informing them of procedures and their respective rights related to a criminal trial. The statutory language in SB adds the stipulation that victims and witnesses must also be informed that the Governor, upon the State Pardon and Parole Boards recommendation, may approve the commutation of any sentence, including life without parole.
According to Senator Smith, the bill was inspired in part by the 200 sentence commutation of former Oklahoma death row inmate Phillip Dewitt Smith. Smiths sentence was commuted from death to life without parole because of evidence that surfaced after his conviction.
While its true that the commutation power of the Governor is rarely used, some recent examples demonstrate that it is nonetheless used from time to time. You might get a case where someone is sentenced to death wrongfully and his or her sentence is commuted. Both victims and witnesses need to understand that this is a possibility.
I am pleased the governor agrees that this is a positive step forward in our efforts to better inform all persons involved in the criminal justice process. This is just another one of those rights that we should be granting, Smith stated.
SB takes effect on November of this year.