- having a prison sentence shortened, or
- having a parole period lessened
The following Nevada defendants may be ineligible for commutation:
- Prisoners sentenced to the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole after July 1, 1995 (though death row inmates may be able to get their sentence commuted down to life in prison without parole);
- Parolees originally sentenced to life who have served less than 10 consecutive years on parole so far; and
- Parolees given a fixed sentence who have served less than one-half of their parole period so far
However, anyone convicted of a crime is encouraged to consult with an attorney to discuss whether commutation is possible and other avenues of post-conviction relief, such as appeals and writs of habeas corpus.
In this article, our Las Vegas Nevada criminal defense attorneys discuss:
- 1. Definition of commutation
- 2. How to apply
- 3. Eligibility
- 4. Commutation for people sentenced under outdated laws
- 5. Costs
- 6. Notice to victims
- 7. Odds of success
- 8. Commutation versus pardons
1. Definition of commutation in Nevada
A commutation in Nevada is when the State Board of Pardons Commissioners (“Board”) reduces a defendant’s criminal sentence.1 Examples are the Board reducing a defendant’s death sentence down to life without the possibility of parole, or the Board reducing a 20-year sentence down to a 15-year sentence.
The Board consists of the:
A majority of the board (including the governor) is required to approve a defendant’s commutation request.2
People often use the term “commutation” interchangeably “executive clemency.” However, “executive clemency” is a broader concept than commutation: “Executive clemency” also includes pardons, which is a separate legal concept from commutation (as discussed below in section 8).3
2. How to apply for a commutation of sentence in Nevada
People seeking a sentence reduction must submit an application to the Board. Defendants may obtain applications from a warden at the Nevada Department of Corrections. (The application will probably be similar to this one from 2017.)
The commutation application must include the following information:
- the defendant’s name;
- the Nevada court which convicted the defendant;
- the punishment the defendant was sentenced to;
- reasons that the Board should reduce the sentence; and
- any other relevant information
The defendant must submit the application to the Board at least 90 days before the Board’s next meeting in order to be considered at the meeting (unless the Governor makes an exception).
If the Board decides to consider a commutation application at its next meeting, the Board must let the district attorney and judge in the case know (unless the case involves the death penalty).4Once the district attorney receives notice of the commutation application, the district attorney will give the Board a written statement describing the facts of the case and any information relevant to the Board’s decision.5
Anyone in the general public can provide input in support or in opposition of a commutation via fax at 775-687-6736 or mail at:
Nevada Pardons Board
ATTN: Office of the Executive Secretary
1667 Old Hot Springs Rd Suite A,
Carson City, NV 89706.
Ultimately, the approval of the governor and at least four (4) Board members are necessary to approve a sentence reduction.6
3. Eligibility for commutation of a sentence in Nevada
A defendant’s eligibility for commutation in Nevada turns on whether the defendant is currently:
- in prison,
- on parole,
- sentenced to death, or
- sentenced to life without the possibility of parole
Note that sentences for treason may not be commuted.7
3.1. Commutation for prisoners
Nevada prisoners may not get their sentences commuted if they are eligible for parole — or become eligible for parole — on a date less than one (1) year after the date of the next Board meeting. The only exception is if the defendant shows “extraordinary circumstances.”8
Scroll down to sections 3.3 and 3.4 for commutation rules for prisoners on death row or sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
3.2. Commutation for parolees
Nevada parolees may be eligible for a sentence reduction if either:
- they were sentenced to life in prison and served at least ten (10) consecutive years on parole; or
- they were not sentenced to life in prison and served one-half of the period of their parole
However, the Board will not consider reducing these parolees’ sentences unless:
- the State Board of Parole Commissioners refused to file a petition for a modification of sentence despite the support of the Division of Parole and Probation of the Department of Public Safety; or
- the court denied the petition for a modification of sentence
Note that Board members are allowed to consider commutation applications of people who ordinarily would be ineligible.9 Therefore, parolees who may be ineligible are still encouraged to apply for commutation in the hopes that a Board member will cherry-pick their application for special consideration.
3.3. Commutation for prisoners sentenced to death
The Board may commute a death sentence down to a sentence that allows parole if either:
- the defendant was less than 18 when he/she committed first-degree murder; or
- the defendant was convicted before July 1, 1995
Note that the Board does not consider reducing death sentences unless the defendants have exhausted all other legal avenues (such as appeals).10
3.4. Commutation for prisoners sentenced to life without the possibility of parole
The Board may commute a Nevada sentence of life without the possibility of parole down to a sentence that allows parole if either:
- the defendant was less than 18 when he/she committed the crime; or
- the defendant was convicted before July 1, 199511
4. Commutation for defendants sentenced under outdated laws
People serving a criminal sentence that is longer than what current law requires are encouraged to apply for commutation. However, the Board does not commute sentences solely on the basis of updated laws. Instead, the Board will consider the entire case on the merits.12
5. Cost of applying for a commutation in Nevada
There is no fee to apply for a commutation of sentence in Nevada.13
6. Notice to victims of crimes when sentences are commuted
If the Board commutes a person’s sentence, the Board will notify the crime’s victims by mail as long as they provide a written request and current mailing address.14
7. Odds of getting a commutation
Whether the board will commute a person’s sentence depends entirely on the case. Defendants seeking a sentence reduction should consult with an experienced lawyer who knows how to compose persuasive applications.
8. Commutation versus pardons in Nevada
Commutation is different from pardons. A commutation reduces people’s remaining criminal sentence. In contrast, a pardon “forgives” people of their past crime(s) long after they finished serving the sentence.
Depending on the case, pardons can also restore a person’s gun rights. Commutation does not restore gun rights.15 Learn more about applying for a pardon.
Call a Nevada criminal defense attorney…
Have you been convicted of a crime in Nevada? It may be possible to get your sentence reduced to a lesser penalty. Contact our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys for a consultation to discuss your matter and how we can help.
Convicted in California? Learn about California executive clemency laws.
Convicted in Colorado? Learn about Colorado executive clemency laws.
- NAC 213.012 “Commutation of a punishment” defined.“Commutation of a punishment” means the changing of the sentence of a person convicted of a crime to another sentence, resulting in a reduction or lessening of the sentence.
- Nevada Constitution Sec. 14. State Board of Pardons Commissioners; remission of fines and forfeitures; commutations and pardons; suspension of sentence; probation. [Effective November 24, 2020, if the provisions of Senate Joint Resolution No. 1 (2017) are agreed to and passed by the 2019 Legislature and approved and ratified by the voters at the 2020 General Election.]1. The governor, justices of the supreme court, and attorney general shall constitute the State Board of Pardons Commissioners.2. The State Board of Pardons Commissioners may, upon such conditions and with such limitations and restrictions as they may think proper, remit fines and forfeitures, commute punishments, except as provided in subsection 3, and grant pardons, after convictions, in all cases, except treason and impeachments, subject to such regulations as may be provided by law relative to the manner of applying for pardons.3. Except as may be provided by law, a sentence of death or a sentence of life imprisonment without possibility of parole may not be commuted to a sentence which would allow parole.
4. The State Board of Pardons Commissioners shall meet at least quarterly.
5. Any member of the State Board of Pardons Commissioners may submit matters for consideration by the State Board of Pardons Commissioners.
6. A majority of the members of the State Board of Pardons Commissioners is sufficient for any action taken by the State Board of Pardons Commissioners.
7. The Legislature is authorized to pass laws conferring upon the district courts authority to suspend the execution of sentences, fix the conditions for, and to grant probation, and within the minimum and maximum periods authorized by law, fix the sentence to be served by the person convicted of crime in said courts.
- NAC 213.011 “Clemency” defined.“Clemency” means the remission or lessening of a punishment to which a person convicted of a crime was sentenced and includes the remission of a fine or forfeiture, the commutation of a punishment, the granting of a pardon and the restoration, in whole or in part, of the civil rights of a person convicted of a crime.
- NRS 213.020 Notice of application for remission, commutation, pardon or restoration of civil rights: Contents; service.1. Any person intending to apply to have a fine or forfeiture remitted, a punishment commuted, a pardon granted or his or her civil rights restored, or any person acting on his or her behalf, must submit an application to the Board, in accordance with the procedures established by the Secretary pursuant to NRS 213.017, specifying therein:(a) The court in which the judgment was rendered;(b) The amount of the fine or forfeiture, or the kind or character of punishment;
(c) The name of the person in whose favor the application is to be made;
(d) The particular grounds upon which the application will be based; and
(e) Any other information deemed relevant by the Secretary.
2. A person must not be required to pay a fee to have a fine or forfeiture remitted, a punishment commuted, a pardon granted or his or her civil rights restored pursuant to this section.
3. Except as otherwise provided in a policy adopted pursuant to NRS 213.035, the Secretary shall submit notice of the date, time and location of the meeting to consider the application and one copy of the application to the district attorney and to the district judge of the county wherein the person was convicted. In cases of fines and forfeitures, notice of the date, time and location of the meeting to consider the application must also be served on the chair of the board of county commissioners of the county wherein the person was convicted.
4. Except as otherwise provided in a policy adopted pursuant to NRS 213.035, notice of the date, time and location of a meeting to consider an application pursuant to this section must be served upon the appropriate persons as required in this section at least 30 days before the presentation of the application, unless a member of the Board, for good cause, prescribes a shorter time.
NRS 213.030 When notice of application not required. No notice shall be required of an application for:
1. A restoration to citizenship to take effect at the expiration of a term of imprisonment; or
2. The commutation of the death penalty.
NAC 213.040 Availability and submission; time limit.
1. A person seeking clemency, or any person acting on behalf of such a person, must submit an application to the Board in accordance with the instructions prescribed by the Secretary. An application for clemency may be obtained from the Secretary at 1677 Old Hot Springs Road, Suite A, Carson City, Nevada 89706. In addition, an application for the commutation of a punishment may be obtained from the wardens of institutions and facilities of the Department in accordance with the instructions prescribed by the Secretary.
2. Except as otherwise provided in subsection 3, an application for a pardon, the remission of a fine or forfeiture or the commutation of a punishment must be submitted to the Secretary not less than 90 days before a semiannual meeting of the Board.
3. The Governor may prescribe a shorter period for a special hearing of the Board.
NAC 213.050 Contents; applicability.
1. An application must include:
(a) The name of the person making the application;
(b) If the application is filed on behalf of another person, the name of the person in whose favor the application is made;
(c) The court rendering judgment;
(d) The amount of the fine or forfeiture, or the kind or character of the punishment;
(e) The type of clemency or pardon being sought;
(f) The grounds for the application; and
(g) Any other information deemed necessary by the Secretary.
2. An application for clemency must relate to a violation of the laws of this State. A person may not apply for clemency if the offense for which clemency is sought was a violation of the laws of another state, the United States, a district, commonwealth, territory or insular possession of the United States or a foreign country.
NAC 213.055 Procedures and criteria for selection of applications for consideration by Board; additional selections.
1. The Secretary shall establish procedures and criteria for the selection of applications for clemency to be considered by the Board at a meeting. The Secretary shall:
(a) Post the procedures and criteria on the Internet website maintained by the Board; and
(b) Make the procedures and criteria available for public inspection at the primary office of the Secretary.
2. Except as otherwise provided in subsection 4, a member of the Board may select an application for clemency for the consideration of the Board at a meeting notwithstanding the procedures and criteria established by the Secretary pursuant to subsection 1, any regulation of the Board or the recommendation or absence of a recommendation from the Director of the Department or the Chief Parole and Probation Officer. A member of the Board who wishes to select an application for the consideration of the Board must inform the Secretary of the selection not less than 50 days before the date of the meeting at which the Board will consider the application, unless the member demonstrates good cause for a shorter period of time.
3. Members of the State Board of Parole Commissioners and the Director of the Department may provide to the Secretary the names of inmates who may merit consideration for clemency.
4. Before a meeting of the Board, the Governor may remove from consideration any application for clemency that has been selected for the consideration of the Board.
- NRS 213.040 District attorneys to furnish Board with statement upon receipt of notice of application for remission, commutation or pardon; notice of application to victim.All district attorneys receiving notice of an application for a pardon, or commutation of punishment, or remission of fine or forfeiture, shall transmit forthwith to:1. The Board a statement in writing of facts surrounding the commission of the offense for which the applicant is incarcerated or subject to penalty and any information affecting the merits of the application.2. Each victim of the person applying for clemency a copy of the notice of the application, if the victim so requests in writing and provides his or her current address. If a current address is not provided, the district attorney may not be held responsible if a copy of the notice is not received by the victim. All personal information, including, but not limited to, a current or former address, which pertains to a victim and which is received by the district attorney pursuant to this subsection is confidential.
NRS 213.100 Order of discharge when clemency granted.
Whenever clemency is granted by the Board, there shall be served upon the Director of the Department of Corrections or other officer having the person in custody, an order to discharge the person therefrom upon a day to be named in the order, upon the conditions, limitations or restrictions named therein.
- Nevada Constitution Sec. 14.
- NAC 213.080 Prisoners eligible for or denied parole.
The Board will not accept the application of a prisoner for a pardon or the commutation of a punishment if the prisoner is eligible for release on parole to the community, or becomes eligible for release on parole to the community on a date less than 1 year after the date of the next meeting of the Board, unless the applicant shows extraordinary circumstances that merit consideration by the Board.
- NAC 213.085 Persons on parole.
Except as otherwise provided in subsection 2 of NAC 213.055, the Board will not consider an application for the remission of a fine or forfeiture or the commutation of a punishment submitted by a person on parole unless, pursuant to NRS 176.033, the person has served one-half of the period of his or her parole, or 10 consecutive years on parole in the case of a person sentenced to life imprisonment, and:1. The Division has provided the person a favorable recommendation for a modification of sentence pursuant to NRS 176.033 and the State Board of Parole Commissioners has refused to file a petition for a modification of sentence pursuant to NRS 176.033; or2. The State Board of Parole Commissioners has filed a petition for a modification of sentence pursuant to NRS 176.033 and the court has denied the petition.NAC 213.120 Death penalty.
1. Except as otherwise provided in subsection 2 of NAC 213.055, the Board will not consider an application for a pardon or the commutation of a punishment submitted by a person sentenced to the death penalty unless the person has exhausted all available judicial appeals.
2. If a death penalty is being considered, the presence of the Governor is required and any judgment must be made by a majority of the members of the Board.
- NRS 213.085 Board prohibited from commuting sentence of death or imprisonment for life without possibility of parole to sentence that would allow parole; exception.1. If a person is convicted on or after July 1, 1995, of any crime that the person committed when he or she was 18 years of age or older, the Board shall not commute:(a) A sentence of death; or(b) A sentence of imprisonment in the state prison for life without the possibility of parole,
-> to a sentence that would allow parole.
2. If a person is convicted of any crime that the person committed when he or she was less than 18 years of age, the Board may, in its discretion, commute:
(a) A sentence of death; or
(b) A sentence of imprisonment in the state prison for life without the possibility of parole,
-> to a sentence that would allow parole.
NRS 213.080 Procedure when death penalty is commuted.
1. Whenever any punishment involving the death penalty is commuted, a statement in writing shall be made out and signed reciting:
(a) The name of the person whose punishment is commuted.
(b) The time and place where convicted.
(c) The amount, kind and character of punishment substituted instead of the death penalty.
(d) The place where the substituted punishment is to be served out or suffered.
2. The statement shall be directed to the proper officer or authority charged by law with the safekeeping and execution of the punishment. The statement, attested with the Great Seal of this state, shall be sufficient authority for such officer or authority to receive and retain the person named in the statement as therein directed, and the officer or authority named in the statement must receive the person whose punishment has been commuted, and retain the person as directed.
- Id.; NAC 213.110 Commutation of sentence of life without possibility of parole. (NRS 213.085, 233B.040, 233B.050) The Board will not consider an application for the commutation of a sentence of life without the possibility of parole to life with the possibility of parole unless:1. The applicant committed the crime before July 1, 1995; and2. Nineteen calendar years have been served by the applicant.
- NAC 213.100 Effect of new criminal code. An application for the commutation of a punishment submitted by a person serving a sentence prescribed under a previous criminal law which is longer than now prescribed under current law will be considered on the merits of the case alone and not solely because, under the new law, the punishment has been reduced.
- NRS 213.020.
- NRS 213.095 Notice by Board to victim if clemency granted. If the Board remits a fine or forfeiture, commutes a sentence or grants a pardon, it shall give written notice of its action to the victim of the person granted clemency, if the victim so requests in writing and provides his or her current address. If a current address is not provided, the Board may not be held responsible if the notice is not received by the victim. All personal information, including, but not limited to, a current or former address, which pertains to a victim and which is received by the Board pursuant to this section is confidential.
- Colwell v. State, 112 Nev. 807, 919 P.2d 403 (1996)(“Commutation is the changing of one sentence to another while a pardon absolves a defendant of the crime altogether.”).