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14 Oklahoma Drug Offenders Have Sentences Commuted

17-Apr-2017

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin has commuted the sentences of 14 inmates serving life without parole for drug crimes. This latest round of commutations brings her total to 21 since June 2016. However, that number represents only about a third of Oklahoma inmates serving life without parole for nonviolent drug crimes.

Prior to 2015, Oklahoma law required life sentence for anyone convicted of drug trafficking after two prior felony drug convictions. In 2015, the state repealed the mandate; however, the law was not applied retroactively. This left dozens of inmates serving life sentences or life without parole for nonviolent drug offenses.

Recently, the Pardon and Parole Board has recommended commuted sentences for many of these inmates. However, their commutations must wait for the governor's approval.

Of the most recent 14 inmates to have their sentences commuted by Governor Fallin, most were serving life without parole. A commutation of the sentence, however, does not mean immediate release for most of these inmates.

Instead, their sentences were reduced from life in prison without the possibility of parole to life in prison with the possibility of parole. In other words, these men are still serving life sentences--they just may have the chance to eventually get out of prison. To most people, it doesn't sound like much of a change, but for these inmates, it does offer hope.

There are still dozens of inmates in Oklahoma--56 according to DOC records--who are serving life without parole for nonviolent drug offenses. For several of these, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board has already recommended commutation, but Gov. Fallin has not yet signed off on commuting their sentences. One of those is 76-year-old K.O. Cooper, who was convicted in 2012 for selling cocaine out of his Enid home. Cooper is believed to be Oklahoma's oldest inmate serving life without parole for a drug time who is currently awaiting the governor to approve his commutation. 

There are two types of clemency awarded by the governor: commutation and pardon.

A commutation is the lessening of a sentence that is considered to be no longer appropriate for the offense or the offender. When the governor commutes an inmates sentence, the inmate may or may not be eligible for immediate release, depending on how much time he or she has served and how much the sentence was reduced. In the case of the most recent round of commutations, it only opens up the possibility of parole and may not have any real impact on the time the inmate serves.

A pardon, on the other hand, is a form of official "forgiveness." It is not a declaration of innocence, but it is an indicator that a person convicted of a crime has accepted responsibility for his or her actions and established good conduct. While a person who has received a pardon is not exonerated, or found not guilty after the prior conviction, he or she does typically have civil rights that were forfeited upon conviction restored.

Learn more about pardons here, or call 405-778-4800 for more information about post-conviction relief, parole, and record expungement.



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