Updated Tips for filing Commutation Applications in PA

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Naomi Blount pictured here is the 2nd women in 30 years to receive a commutation of her life sentences. Here she is in Philadelphia shortly after being released. We are so happy for you Naomi!

We just updated our Commutation Kit with the new information from the Board of Pardon (BOP) website.  Essentially, it’s all the information in this post in an easy to print pdf. All the kits have a copy of the new form for appealing merit review or public hearing outcomes.

These tips are tailored for people serving death by incarceration

  • Ideally you would have a lawyer represent you when you get to the public hearing. If you do not have one, Applicants seeking representation should contact: Ross Miller, Interagency Liaison Bureau of Treatment Services Pennsylvania Department of Corrections 1920 Technology Parkway, Mechanicsburg, PA 17050  Phone:  717-728-0377
  • When we are trying to find out if our people are up for merit review or what is going on with their application we contact John Johnson, Pardons Case Specialist Pennsylvania Department of Corrections 1920 Technology Parkway, Mechanicsburg, PA 17050. Phone: 717-728-0386 johjohnson@pa.gov Let it be known that there is most often incorrect information about who is going up for Merit Review – even if one of the BOP people tell us who is going up. Several times they have listed peoples names and several times they were not on the list. Try to call Johnson the week before the scheduled merit review to obtain the most accurate info.
  • Supporters can now email letters of recommendation to the board of pardons. Contact as of July 2019 is Brandon Flood – Bflood@pa.gov He will distribute the letter to the board and put it in the applicants packet. It’s always important to send a paper copy to your person filing the application.
  • People in prison can get a copy of the application by going through a counselor. People on the outside can also send an application by downloading it through the Board of Pardons website. As of 2019 there are on longer fees associated with this application.  Let’s Get Free can send person in prison an application on request.
  • You can now appeal a negative outcome during the Merit Review phase. You have 30 days to submit a Letter of Reconsideration along with a form you can find on DOC website. Both Naomi Blount and Farouq Wideman were denied at the merit review stage last winter, filed the reconsideration letter, were granted public hearings in May and are now in half way houses as of July 2019 (glory be!) They are part of the 11 people commuted this far under Governor Wolf.

Upcoming Schedule for Board of Pardon Hearings

Thursday, August 8, 2019 – Merit Review Session – Senate Hearing Room – 3:00 p.m. Wednesday, September 11, 2019 – Public Hearing – Supreme Courtroom – 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 Thursday, September 12, 2019 – Public Hearing – Supreme Courtroom – 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 Friday, September 13, 2019 – Public Hearing – Supreme Courtroom – 9:00 a.m. -1:00 p.m. Thursday, November 7, 2019 – Merit Review Session – Senate Hearing Room – 3:00 p.m. Wednesday, December 18, 2019 – Public Hearing – Supreme Courtroom – 9:00 a.m.-1:00 Thursday, December 19, 2019 – Public Hearing – Supreme Courtroom – 9:00 a.m. 1:00 p.m. Friday, December 20, 2019 – Public Hearing – Supreme Courtroom – 9:00 a.m. and 1:00

NOTE:  The Public Hearings & Merit Review Sessions are NOT held at the Board of Pardons office.

  • The Public Hearings are held in the Supreme Court Courtroom, Main Capitol Building, Capitol Rotunda, Room 437, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
  • The Merit Review Sessions are held in the Senate Hearing Room, 8A East Wing, Capitol Building, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
  • Scheduled Merit Review Sessions and Public Hearings are subject to change as deemed necessary by the Board.

Tips for writing a commutation application during the Wolf administration Updated July 2019 By Ellen Melchiondo, The Women’s Lifer Resume Project

The new commutation application is free and there is no filing fee. The application is available on the BOP website and in the prison library. Supplemental pages must be used-no “see attachment.” Click her for application

If you are not in prison and assisting an applicant what I do is download the application pdf.  Then on my Mac I click on tools, annotate, text box. (Magically the text box appears without having to do all of that clicking! I don’t know why that is happening these days but its great.)

Here’s a rundown on each section for life sentenced people:

Section 1: Check “Commute Life Sentence to Life on Parole” and do your best to remember each time you previously applied.

Section 2: Just the facts. If using the DOC-Parole for representation click the box, the address is below. If using someone else, give that information.

Section 3:  Less information is asked here. I type two lines of text in bold between two lines for the narrative in role of crime: “place, role and caught.” Use a supplemental page if needed.

Section 4: Fill out Section 4 to the best of your ability however parole provides the rap sheet to the DOC commutation office. No one is expected to pay for their criminal history report.

Section 5: is now totally optional. No more checking boxes to address reasons for applying. However, the line spacing on the page doesn’t line up with any font size or spacing! It’s terrible. So what I do is print a page, cover the lines with a blank piece of paper then print.  I type the narrative in Pages (10-12 font size)  then print on the paper without lines. Looks great and easy to read. Print more than you need. Remember to hit return a few times to get the words below the header.

I think now, less is more in Section 5. An explanation about your life circumstances before and during serving time is good. Accomplishments in list form. Home plan if you have one: the one year required residency at a CCC and then after if you have one.  You can list your supporters and how they will help you.  Be creative!

Section 6: sign and date. Mail to Mechanicsburg on Section 2. Keep a copy for yourself!

Do write a cover letter. State you are applying for commutation, list a few good points about your rehabilitation efforts, home plan if you have one and thank the BOP for considering your application. 2 paragraphs in length.

Good luck!

Ellen

Letters of Support and Letters of Recommendation

A support letter shows real support while on parole: housing, money, job, transportation, clothes, etc…

A letter of Recommendation explains why a person believes you are no longer a threat to public safety and have been rehabilitated. They can express other things like looking forward to spending time with you, showing you how to navigate the free world, etc..

Asking Friends and Family for Letters – Support your friends in supporting you!

Here is a sample letter people in prison can use to mobilize family and friends to write letters:

Re: (Your name) Commutation Support Letter

Dear

I am working on my commutation application. I would like to know if you would be interested in writing a letter of support, a character witness letter to the board of pardons on my behalf.

If you are open to this the letter should be addressed to The Board of Pardons 333 Market St, Harrisburg, PA 17126 and include the following – RE: (commutation applicant’s name) Commutation of Life Sentence, letter writer’s return address and phone number.

The letter should state the following:

  1. Briefly touch on who you are, your background, employment, degrees, etc.
  2. Include Commutation Applicant’s Name, DOC Number and Prison
  3. How we came in contact with each other.
  4. Your thoughts on my maturity and rehabilitation.
  5. Your thoughts on my remorse for the offense I am convicted of.
  6. Your thoughts on my chances for successful reentry into society, employment and participation in society upon my release.
  7. Any willingness you would have in assisting in my reentry to society i.e. references, referrals, etc. when I am released.

When you are finished with the letter please send the original back to me. Please also keep a copy for yourself. Your assistance is greatly appreciated.

Thank You,

XXXXXXXX

Reminder: Supporters can now email letters to the board of pardons. Contact as of July 2019 is Brandon Flood – Bflood@pa.gov and then he will distribute the letter to the board the applicant’s packet. It’s always important to send a paper copy to your person filing the application.



This following is all from the BOP website: Filing Of An Application:

When an application is received at the Board of Pardons office and is found to be complete and accurate, it is considered “filed.” A letter will be sent to confirm the filing of the application. If incomplete, it will not be considered filed until all requirements have been fulfilled.

Filing an application to commute a Death sentence to Life imprisonment entails special procedures. The presentation may last thirty minutes, and every filed capital application is granted a public hearing. A capital applicant must submit every pertinent piece of material at least ten days prior to the date of hearing. 

Board of Pardons Process Flowcharts for public and incarcerated cases are now available.

Incarcerated Process Flow Chart_Page_1

Incarcerated Process Flow Chart_Page_2



Procedure:

After an application has been filed, a copy of the application is sent to the following interested parties:

Board of Probation and Parole – Staff from the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole conduct investigations for the Board of Pardons. They will report all criminal history and driving violations found.  They will also conduct a telephone interview or an in-person interview in your home to provide our Board with your present personal status.

The following is a list of items you will need to gather in advance of the meeting with the investigating staff:

  • Residence: rental agreement, mortgage statements, rent receipts, etc. as applicable;
  • Marital Status and Family Composition: marriage decrees, divorce decrees, birth and or death certificates, etc. as applicable;
  • Employment: pay stubs, W2’s, evidence of income to include alimony, unemployment, VA benefits, etc. as applicable;
  • Resources: investment statements, life insurance policies, checking and savings account statements, total family income, value of all property to include vehicles, vacation property, rental property; etc. as applicable;
  • Liabilities and Indebtedness: loan statements, mortgage statements, installment (credit card) statements, delinquency on any utilities, etc. as applicable;
  • Membership in Organizations and/or other Civic Organizations: membership cards for any volunteer, civic, church related organizations, etc. as applicable;
  • Religious interests: interests and activities of the Applicant, as applicable;
  • Mobility and Travel: addresses and dates of residences for the past ten years;
  • Employment History: record of jobs held for the past ten years as shown by W2’s, pay stubs, etc. as applicable;
  • Educational History: history of education as shown by diplomas, certificates, transcripts, etc. as applicable;
  • Military Service: branch of service, dates of entry and discharge, type of discharge, rank attained as shown by a DD-214; as applicable;
  • Community Reputation and Reference: names and contact information of at least 3-5 references to be contacted by the investigating Agent, or letters of support.

If you do not reside in Pennsylvania, parole staff’s standard procedure is to send you a worksheet to complete followed up by a telephone interview to confirm the information contained in the worksheet.

You should expect a delay from the time your application is filed until you are interviewed.  This will ensure that the information regarding your present personal status is current and accurate when it is reviewed by the Board.

Department of Corrections – This agency is responsible for preparing a report for incarcerated individuals only.

District Attorney/President Judge – The District Attorney and President Judge in the county where the crime(s) occurred are given a chance to provide an opinion on the merits of every application. In cases involving more than one jurisdiction, a copy of the application will also go to the appropriate District Attorney and President Judge in that county.

Once all of the necessary reports have been received, the Board Secretary and staff will send to each Board Member in advance an applicant’s file to be reviewed for a hearing. The Board will grant a hearing if two (2) of the five Board members approve. Hearings for lifers or prisoners serving time for crimes of violence may only be granted upon approval of three (3) Board members. Attempted crimes of violence are included in this and offenses committed while in visible possession of a firearm, for which sentencing was imposed, will also require a three (3) member vote. If the required number of votes are not obtained, the process has ended and the applicant will not receive a pardon/commutation.

If a hearing is granted, the following individuals/agencies will be notified of the time and place of the hearing:

  • Applicant/Representative
  • Board of Probation and Parole
  • Department of Corrections (If incarcerated)
  • District Attorney, President Judge
  • Victim(s) or Victim(s) Next of Kin
  • Newspaper in the county where an applicant committed the crime(s) for which he/she is seeking clemency. At least one week prior to the public hearing, notice must be published stating the applicant’s name, the crimes(s) with respect to which the applicant has applied for clemency, clemency type, the institution, if any, in which the applicant is confined and the time and place of the hearing at which the application will be heard. Newspaper publication is required for every application to be heard by the Board.

A calendar is prepared, listing each application to be heard at the specified public session. It is distributed to all interested parties in advance of the public session.


The Hearing:

Hearings are held in the Supreme Court Courtroom in Harrisburg. The Board meets on a regular basis, as determined by the Board. On the scheduled day, the Board convenes at 9:00 A.M. for morning sessions or 1:00 P.M. for afternoon sessions. The Board’s secretary will call the session to order and the Board’s chairman will present opening remarks. Following the opening remarks, the first case, as listed on the calendar, is called to present their case. No more than fifteen minutes is allowed for each applicant’s presentation. Each case is called in consecutive order with each informal presentation adhering to the following format:

  • Applicant’s presentation
  • Supportive speakers’ presentation
  • Victim’s and/or victim’s next of kin’s presentation or anyone who would like to speak in opposition of the application.

Visit the Public Hearing Presentation page for more information on preparing for your presentation to the Board.

The Results:

Following the public hearing session, the Board meets in Executive Session. The Board reconvenes to vote in public. If a majority of the Board vote in favor of an application, the Board recommends favorable action to the Governor. If less than a majority of the Board vote in favor, the result is a denial by the Board and the application is not forwarded to the Governor. Life or Death sentence cases require a unanimous vote by the Board to be recommended to the Governor. The Governor, at his discretion, may approve or disapprove any favorable recommendation submitted by the Board. When the Secretary of the Board has received the Governor’s action, all interested parties will be notified of the decision.

Post Result Actions:

Reconsideration – A request for reconsideration of any decision may be made to the Board. The applicant must show a change in circumstances since the application was filed, or other compelling reasons, sufficient to justify reconsideration. Dissatisfaction with the Board’s decision is not grounds to request reconsideration.

Effective Monday, June 3, 2019, a formal request for reconsideration must be accompanied by a Reconsideration Request Form, which is prescribed by the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons (BOP).  From the effective date and anytime thereafter, any request that does not include a Reconsideration Request Form will be automatically rejected by the BOP.

Download Reconsideration Request Form

Reapplication – An application may not be filed before the expiration of 12 months from a final adverse decision on any prior application. If an application receives two consecutive adverse decisions, an application may not be filed before the expiration of 24 months from the last adverse decision.

tyronewertzspeaking
Press conference at Avis Lee’s merit review hearing in 2014. She received unanimous denial. She is awaiting decision on her 6th attempt at commutation. We expect the merit review to take place in November. Tyrone Wertz, commuted lifer is speaking, surrounded by many supporters.

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