Current Board Members:
Rev. C.T. Wright, Chairman (appointed December 2016)
Michael Johnson, appointed 2017
Louis Quinonez, appointed 2017
Gail Rittenhouse, appointed 2017
David Neal, appointed 2017
(For the first time in many months, the Board has five members, which is the fully mandated number of members allowed by statute. Ellen Kirschbaum former board member and board chair, is now the executive director of the Board)
Note: Board member David Neal is a member of a group called Parents of Murdered Children. If your appearance before the board involves a case where a child was murdered by the person you are supporting, you need to notify the prisoner so that he can make a request at the beginning of his hearing for David Neal to RECUSE himself from the hearing. Mr. Neal should do this on his own for ethical appearances, but we have evidence that he does not recuse himself from such hearings. The request needs to be made at the start of the hearing if David Neal is on the panel that day for the hearing, and it needs to be placed on the official record of the hearing which is a tape recording that the board makes of every hearing. It is important for board members to maintain high ethical standards in their ability to be fair and impartial when hearing a case, and to avoid even the appearance of bias or prejudice.
Address: 1645 West Jefferson, Phoenix, Arizona 85007
Phone: (602) 542-5656
DID YOU KNOW? Donna Leone Hamm is a private consultant to individual clients and to attorneys who are seeking some form of executive clemency (parole, commutation of sentence, revocation, etc.). You can retain her for this very specialized work (criminal defense attorneys generally do not practice in the executive branch of government), by calling 480-966-8116.
Note: After many years without any website at all, the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency now has a website with helpful information posted on it. Just type "Arizona Board of Executive Clemency" in your search engine. The Board has recently adopted new application forms for commutation of sentence, pardon and absolute discharge. Middle Ground successfully challenged the new application which was originally issued because it asked questions that should not have been asked, but the Board has changed the application and we approve of its content. The Department of Corrections is supposed to be distributing the newer application when an inmate requests one, so you should make sure that your loved one is not using the old 3-page form. The new application is 16 pages, including a cover page of instructions. If an old application is submitted, it will be returned so that the applicant can fill out the newer application. We will keep this site updated as to further changes in the commutation application questions, specifically as they relate to privacy issues for the inmate's relatives.
Note: We successfully challenged a new policy that the Board implemented which did not permit members of the public to examine Presentence Investigation Reports (PSR's), including even those PSR's that the Board uses at an open public hearing in order to ask an inmate questions about the commission of his crime. After serving months of complaints, a formal written notice to the Arizona Supreme Court, and other discussions with the Board Chairman and their legal counsel, we were finally able to convince the Board that they MUST make the PSR available (with proper redactions for psychological or medical information, criminal history information and names of victims) when a request to review a PSR is made. When such request is made, the Board will first determine if the PSR was sealed by the sentencing court (for example, many sex offender PSR's are sealed by the court). If it is sealed, the board will file a request to the court to unseal the PSR for purposes of its use at the Board hearing and for public review. Assuming permission is granted by the court, the record will then be unsealed. If you are attempting to obtain a PSR from the Board, you will need to request it well in advance of any hearing, assuming the Board's file is the only place you are able to obtain this record. The DOC will not release any PSR records at all.
NEW AND IMPORTANT CHANGES TO COMMUTATION OF SENTENCE POLICY, EFFECTIVE JULY 1, 2017:
1. Prisoners with sentences of 3 years or less will not be eligible to apply for commutation of sentence.
2. Prisoners with aggregate consecutive sentences totaling 50 years or more on the SAME CASE NUMBER will be permitted to apply for commutation of sentence on all of the consecutive sentences.
3. No public or victim testimony will be taken at the Phase I hearing. Members of the public can attend and observe the Phase I hearings, but no one will be allowed to speak at this hearing. It is only a paperwork review, including letters of support or opposition. If the applicant is passed to Phase II, then members of the public including family, friends, potential employers, clergy, victims, prosecutors, etc., will be allowed to speak in support of or in opposition to the applicant's request for commutation of sentence.
As to Item 2 above, Middle Ground has long and (finally) successfully lobbied for this change in board policy. As for Item 1, it makes sense because of the length of time it takes for the average application to navigate the process. As for Item 3, we are taking a "wait and see" approach as to how this works out. The Board believes that the new "paperwork review only" process at Phase I will tend to level the playing field for those who don't have anyone assisting them with their application. Our concerns were that victims have a constitutional right to "speak" at any hearing where an inmate is being considered for release, and that inmates who have professional assistance will still have an advantage because their written application will be more effectively written and presented than one which is prepared by an inmate submitting an application on his/her own, but time will tell if the new policy results in more applicants being passed to Phase II.
LAWS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT : See A.R.S. 31-403 (Commutation; restrictions on consideration):
In the past, a prisoner was permitted to apply for commutation of sentence (if otherwise eligible by law under his/her sentencing statute) after serving two flat calendar years of the current sentence, and -- after being denied -- and according to Board policy, every two years thereafter. For cimes committed on or after January 1, 2006, this will no longer be the case. FOR THOSE WHOSE OFFENSES ARE COMMITTED ON OR 1/1/06, inmates whose crimes were committed on or after the effective date of the new statute will now be allowed to file their FIRST commutation application after serving two flat calendar years on their current sentence, which includes the time they were given for pre-trial jail credits, but will be restricted as to when they can re-apply. Some offenders will be able to re-apply after waiting three (3) years from a previous denial.
However, for example, for those who are convicted of a crime which involved the death of the victim (ARS 13-1104 or 1105); serious physical injury if the person was sentenced pursuant to ARS 13-604; a dangerous crime against children as defined in 13-604.01; or a felony offense in violation of Title 13, Chapter 14 or 35.1, the person will not be allowed to re-apply for commutation of sentence for a period of (at least) five years following the date of the board's denial of the commutation application.
If, in the board's sole discretion, the board determines that the person committed an offense that involved serious physical injury as defined in section 13-105 and that the person wasn't actually sentenced pursuant to 13-604 (due to reduced charges arising from a plea agreement, for example), the board may still order that the person shall not be allowed to file an application for commutation of sentence for a period of five-years from the date of denial of a commutation application.
Additionally, at the time of denial, the board may lengthen the five-year period of time for re-application for a period of up to ten years, AND, for those whose offenses were the most serious, as listed above (death to victim; serious physical injury; dangerous crime against children, etc.) the board may lengthen the period of time to even greater than ten years if: (1) a majority affirmative vote if four or more members consider the action; (2) a unanimous affirmative vote if three members consider the action; (3) a unanimous affirmative vote if two members consider the action and if the chairman concurs after reviewing the information.
All of the above considerations may be waived by the board if: (1) the applicant is in imminent danger of death due to a medical condition, as determined by the board; the person is the subject of a warrant of execution; the sentence for which commutation is sought is the subject of a special order issued by the court pursuant to 13-603 (L).
As noted earlier, the new law will apply only to those who offenses are committed on or after the effective date of the section. Therefore, there will be people in prison who will be allowed to apply for commutation of sentence every three years, as is currently the case, no matter what the crime, and there will eventually be a body of the inmate population who will be restricted to a set number of years, which will vary according to the board's determination, from re-applying for commutation of sentence, according to the new statute.
The Board''s policy on 603 (L) commutation applications is as follows: They skip the Phase I and permit the inmate to move directly to what is usually considered to be Phase II. That is to say, the inmate or his advocates don't have to appear at a Phase I hearing and convince the board that the sentence imposed was clearly excessive. Because a 603 (L) order is one that comes from the sentencing court, and can only be issued at time of sentencing, and which states the Judge's opinion that the sentence he/she was required to impose is clearly excessive, the Board will move the 603 L applicant directly to Phase II. At a 603 L hearing, the inmate will be present via videoconferencing or telephone conferencing and will be interviewed about the crime, the programming taken while in prison to directly address the crime, and why the applicant believes the sentence is excessive according to the specific facts of his case. Generally speaking, a person with a 603 L application before the Board has a slightly better chance of being recommended to the Governor for a reduced sentence, but no one should assume it is an automatic process. And no one should ever assume that the Governor -- any Governor -- will automatically grant a commutation recommendation, no matter under which circumstances it is recommened to his office.
Finally, the Board now requires an applicant applying for commutation of sentence under the provisions of Imminent Danger of Death to have written documentation from a medical doctor which predicts that the person has four (4) months or less to live. Previously, the criteria was six (6) months or less and then it was three (3) months or less. The current policy states "four months or less."
We hope this information will clear up some of the confusion which is bound to occur.
General Information: The Arizona Board of Executive Clemency is a sole and separate agency with its own inherent powers and duties. It does not have any official connection to the Department of Corrections. Currently, under state law, five members are appointed by the governor to the Board and they serve staggered five-year terms. The chairman is selected by the governor and serves at the pleasure, as do each of the members. A person can only be removed from office for good cause prior to expiration of a term. By law, the five members can come from any background, but two members of the same background are not supposed to be appointed to the board at the same time.
The Board offices are located at: 1645 W. Jefferson, Phoenix, Arizona 85007. Letters of support (or opposition) may be sent to this address. Letters should contain the Inmate Name and DOC #. The telephone is: (602) 542-5656. Upon request, the board will mail an application for Pardon or Absolute Discharge to any person who calls. Ordinarily, an inmate seeking a Commutation of Sentence will obtain an application at the prison from his/her assigned CO3. However, the board will also provide such applications or the application can be downloaded and printed from the Board of Executive Clemency's website. It is a very good idea, if possible, for the inmate to ask someone in his family or support group to type out the application for his/her signature, rather than submitting a hand-written document.
All hearings of the Board are subject to the Open Meeting Law. No business (except personnel and legal liability issues) can be conducted behind closed doors. All vote-taking by the board on any issue must take place in the "sunshine" (in open public meetings). Persons wishing to sit as observers of board business, including hearings on inmate cases, may do so at any time. This includes attending hearings held in various prisons throughout the state, which are generally limited to hearings on death penalty reprieves and commutations. The DOC is not permitted to exclude any person from a board hearing that is held inside a prison unit, except if that person poses an immediate and serious threat to prison security. Attendance at board hearings, including those pending execution, do not require the person to be on a prisoner's visitation list. A photo ID is required for attendance at prison-unit hearings, but no entrance requirements are needed for hearings held at the board offices in Phoenix. If any person is denied entry to a board hearing held at a prison unit in any location where public hearings are being conducted, they should immediately contact Middle Ground.
Types of Hearings Conducted and Eligibility Requirements: The Board is authorized to conduct several types of hearings. These include: Parole, Home Arrest, Reprieve, Pardon, Commutation, Parole and/or Community Supervision Revocation. All eligibility for certain hearings is governed by law. A prisoner must qualify under the law for a type of hearing; it is not scheduled just because he/she desires it or applies for it. For example, only those prisoners who were convicted of crimes occurring prior to January 1, 1994 are eligible for parole and home arrest consideration. Parole/ Home arrest is not even available as an option for those who committed crimes on or after January 1, 1994. The board cannot consider a release category unless the prisoner is statutorily eligible for such release.
For questions or additional information, please call Middle Ground (480) 966-8116. Donna Leone Hamm has been qualified in the state courts as an expert witness on Board of Executive Clemency matters. If you wish to retain professional assistance to present a case before the Board of Executive Clemency for commutation of sentence, pardon, parole or revocation, imminent danger of death commutation, etc., please contact Donna for fee information.
INFORMATION ABOUT APPLYING FOR A COMMUTATION FOR FEDERAL PRISONERS:
If you are interested in an application for commutation of sentence (or presidential pardon) for a federal prisoner, the application must be filled out and sent to the Office of The Pardon Attorney in Washington, D.C. Before filling out the application and submitting it, the following documents should be thoroughly read:
1. "Information and Instructions on Commutations and Remissions," which are instructions for filling out each part of the application form.
2. Sections 1.2110 to 1.2113 of the United States Attorney's Manual, "Standards for Consideration of Clemency Petitions." This describes what the Office of the Pardon Attorney does, how United States Attorneys are involved in the process, and the general factors that are considered when a application is reviewed.
3. Sections 1.1 to 1.11 of Title 28 of the Code of Federal Regulations. These rules describe how the application process works, from start to finish.
You can locate all of the above documents and the application forms at: www.usdoj.gov/pardon
You can also request them (if you are in a federal prison) from your Case Manager, or by writing or calling the Office of the Pardon Attorney, 1425 New York Avenue, N.W., Suite 11000, Washington, D.C. 20530. The telephone is: (202) 616-6070.
NOTE: STATE PRISONERS ARE NOT ELIGIBLE FOR COMMUTATIONS OR PARDONS GRANTED BY THE PRESIDENT of the UNITED STATES. THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES HAS NO LEGAL AUTHORITY TO CONSIDER OR GRANT CLEMENCY FOR A STATE-SENTENCED PRISONER. LIKEWISE, A STATE GOVERNOR AND A STATE BOARD OF CLEMENCY HAS NO AUTHORITY TO COMMUTE OR PARDON A FEDERALLY-SENTENCED PRISONER.