Commutation of a Sentence in Florida: Jumpstart your Life by Getting Out of Prison Early

Commutation of a Prison SentenceWhat is a Commutation of a Sentence in Florida[1]? Look at it this way: Is your husband or wife serving a lengthy prison or probation sentence?[2] Is your father, mother, son, or daughter wasting away in a penal institution? Perhaps you, a family member or loved one is serving a long prison sentence in the State of Florida Department of Corrections. The Judge handed down a sentence, the defendant became a recluse, and now he or she is treated as the property of the State. The inmate’s name has been replaced with a six-character DC Number. It may feel as if the jailer threw the keys away, locking up your loved one to rot in the penitentiary, and there’s nothing you can do.

It may feel like life is over for them, and nothing can be done until the lengthy condemnation expires. The end of the sentence could be years or even decades away, or in some cases, the sentence could mean a lifetime in a hellish four-wall prison cage.[3] 

Fortunately, there is good news—your loved one may be eligible for the Commutation of his or her sentence. If the inmate has truly rehabilitated himself[4] and meets certain requirements, he might be a good candidate for a Request for Review for Commutation of a Sentence[5] to the Office of Executive Clemency in Tallahassee, Florida. 

There are some great reasons why your incarcerated loved one should come home and be free, including:

  • To get a job to help the family
  • To get an education to get ahead in life
  • To become a productive member of society

There might be help on the way!

What is Commutation of a Sentence in Florida?

Executive Clemency is a power vested to the Governor by the 1968 Florida Constitution. Article IV, Section 8(a) of the Florida Constitution provides that the governor may commute punishment by executive order.[6] Clemency is an act of mercy that absolves the individual upon whom it is bestowed from all or any part of the punishment that the law imposes.[7] 

The organization in Florida that decides when certain inmates can be released is now called The Florida Commission on Offender Review (formerly known as The Florida Parole Commission, since state legislators eliminated Parole in 1983).[8] The Commission functions as a quasi-judicial body. There are three types of requirements necessary to apply for a Commutation of Sentence: 

  • Statutory (Chapter 940)
  • Executive Rules (Form ADM 1502 and Rules) 
  • Rehabilitation or Reformation (inmate is no longer a threat and is a new person). 

Florida Statute 940.01 states that:

“[E]xcept in cases of treason and in cases when impeachment results in a conviction, the Governor may . . . grant full or conditional pardons, restore civil rights, [and] commute punishment. . . .”[9] 

In the wake of COVID-19, the preservation of human life has required unprecedented application of executive power and orders issued for the protection of public health. Across the country, prisons and jails have become hotbeds for coronavirus.[10] Executive power must now also be exercised to grant the mercy of reprieve to reduce and disperse Florida’s prison population.

What are the Statutory Requirements for Commutation?

Florida Statute 940.03 explains that rules regarding an application for a Commutation of a Sentence are adopted by the Governor with the approval of two members of the Cabinet.[11] Such application may require:

1) The submission of a certified copy of the applicant’s indictment or information

2) The judgment adjudicating the applicant to be guilty, and the sentence

3) A copy of the application to the Judge

4) A copy of the application to the prosecuting attorney of the court in which the applicant was convicted, notifying them of the applicant’s intent to apply for executive Clemency.

An application for executive Clemency for a person who is sentenced to death must be filed within one year after the date the Supreme Court issues a mandate on a direct appeal or the U.S. Supreme Court denies a petition for certiorari, whichever is later.[12]

What are the Executive Requirements for Commutation?

According to state law, “A Request for Review for Commutation of Sentence is necessary when an applicant cannot meet the requirement of the Rules of Executive Clemency.”[13] A person may not be considered for a Commutation of Sentence unless he or she has been granted a Request for Review pursuant to Rule 8 or has had his or her case placed upon a Clemency Board agenda pursuant to Rule 17. The applicant must:

1) Have completed one third (1/3) of the sentence imposed, or

2) Have completed one half (1/2) of the sentence if serving a minimum-mandatory sentence, whichever is greater, or

3) Have completed a minimum of twelve and a half years (12- ½ years), if serving a Life sentence

4) Obtain one original of all materials.

If the Request for Review is denied, the individual is required to wait at least five (5) years before submitting another application. All information and documents submitted with the request will become the property of The Office of the Executive Clemency and will not be returned.[14]

What are the Rehabilitation Requirements?

Rehabilitation factors are often the most closely reviewed by the Board. In reviewing a Request for Commutation, the Board will ask a series of questions and look at Rehabilitation factors to determine whether the individual should qualify for Commutation. Has the individual accepted full responsibility and turned his or her life around? Does the individual pose a risk to anyone? Does he or she have the necessary support on the outside to become a productive member of society? The following list is not comprehensive, but gives an idea of what the Board is looking for:

1) Exemplary Prison Record: This reflects an inmate with model conduct that could be trusted by the guards and respected by fellow prisoners alike.

2) Remorse for the Offense: Proof of sincere remorse and repentance, such as a letter to the victim asking for forgiveness.

3) Academic Education: Academic education programs include adult basic education, General Education Development (GED) certification, the high school diploma program, and various college programs.

4) Career & Technical Education (CTE): CTE programs provide job training for various career sectors, including masonry, carpentry, and auto repair.

5) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT programs are designed to help offenders change the patterns of behavior that led to criminal activity. Specifically, these programs provide various forms of therapy to address rehabilitative needs—such as criminal thinking and anger management—that, if left unaddressed, can increase the likelihood of recidivism.

6) Employment Preparation: Employment preparation programs provide employment skills, such as job readiness and job search techniques, in order to aid their transition back into society.

7) Substance Use Disorder Treatment (SUDT): SUDT programs focus on helping inmates treat their substance use disorders, avoid relapse, and successfully reintegrate into society.

8) Arts‑in‑Corrections: Arts‑in‑Corrections programs focus on providing inmates with arts programs ranging from theatre to creative writing.

9) Innovative Programming Grants: Innovative programming grants provide limited‑term funding to support various volunteer‑run programs—such as prison gardening programs and mentorship projects—at certain prisons.

10) Character Reference Letters: The reputation and credibility of the source play a persuasive role, meaning letters coming from someone with impeccable credentials or from a person well known in the community carries more weight.

11) Support Groups and Plans: Is the family or any other support group providing the means and tools for the inmate to have a successful transition — for example, a job, housing, and emotional support?

Why Should I Hire an Experienced Attorney to Help With my Commutation Petition?

An individual who wants to request a Commutation of a Sentence must make a very strong case in order to maximize their chances of success. In addition to submitting the Request for Review, an experienced attorney can prepare a Petition for Commutation on the individual’s behalf. The attorney can contact the Prosecutor, trial Judge, Probation Officer, and any victim(s) involved in order to obtain their position on the Petition for Commutation and build the strongest possible case.

It’s important for individuals to pursue this path with a very clear focus plan by answering three questions:

  • What can I do to move forward
  • When is the right time to move forward? 
  • Who is going to be the attorney that’s going to help me to prepare the strongest case for Commutation?

Experienced Orlando Attorneys with Incredible Reputation and Credibility

When applying for Commutation of a Sentence, your first Request for Review might be your only chance. If the Request is denied, you’re required to wait five years before reapplying, and your chances of success may be drastically reduced. An experienced attorney can prepare the Request for Review for you and can help build the strongest possible case for mercy by preparing a Petition for Commutation to send to the Office of Executive Clemency.

At The Umansky Law Firm, we live by the motto “Everyone Deserves a Second Chance.” Attorney William (“Bill”) Umansky understands from his own experience that personal circumstances or bad decisions can derail a person’s life. As a young adult, he experienced his own struggles that could have sent him down a dangerous path.

“My dad left my mom at an early age and I started going down the wrong path when I was about 13 or 14. I mean, I did drugs, drove drunk, was a hellion, got kicked out of three different schools. And it was a very, very difficult period of time. My life was filled with self-loathing and hatred.”[15]

Now, Attorney Bill Umansky has devoted his career to helping others obtain their second chance. He has appeared or been quoted in many national media outlets, including USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, People Magazine, NBC, CBS, ABC, and FOX affiliates around the country. Recently, he was named a Top Criminal Lawyer by Orlando Home and Leisure Magazine. His adherence to ethics and advocacy skills have earned him the highest rating possible of AV Preeminent from Martindale Hubbell, and a 10 rating on Avvo.

Attorney Umansky has been selected as being among the Super Lawyers for the last six years in a row, and was the recipient of several honors for his work with legal aid. Bill is also the founder of The Second Chance of Florida Foundation, a nonprofit organization that raises money for college tuition and book scholarships for young adults facing hardship, such as a parent in jail.[16]

If you or a loved one is seeking a Commutation of a Probation or Prison Sentence, contact The Umansky Law Firm today at (407) 228-3838 to speak with an experienced attorney about increasing your chances for Commutation by making the strongest case possible to come home early and jumpstart your life.

[1] Commutation may adjust an applicant’s penalty to one less severe but does not restore any civil rights, and it does not restore the authority to own, possess, or use firearms.

[2] Commutation of a sentence can include probation.

[3] https://www.miamiherald.com/latest-news/article220091100.html

[4] He, him, or himself, also applies to the female pronoun, she, her, or herself.

[5] The statutory name is Commutation of Punishment, but the application’s name is Request for Review – Commutation Sentence Only.

[6] Art. IV, § 8(a), Fla. Const. http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?submenu=3

[7] https://www.fcor.state.fl.us/clemencyOverview.shtml

[8] https://thefloridachannel.org/videos/law-florida-commission-offender-review/

[9] Fla. Stat. § 940.01(1) http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=0900-0999/0940/Sections/0940.01.html

[10] https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/09/us/coronavirus-jails-prisons/index.html

[11] Fla. Stat. § 940.03 http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=0900-0999/0940/Sections/0940.03.html

[12] Fla. Stat. § 940.03 http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=0900-0999/0940/Sections/0940.03.html

[13] https://www.fcor.state.fl.us/docs/clemency/RequestReviewApplication.PDF

[14] https://www.fcor.state.fl.us/docs/clemency/RequestReviewApplication.PDF

[15] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=03tGbMfx5II

[16] http://secondchanceofflorida.com/board-of-directors/