OKLAHOMA CITY – To keep punishment decisions for the most heinous crimes out of the hands of political appointees and with courts and juries, where they belong, Rep. John Pfeiffer, R-Orlando, advanced legislation Wednesday restricting the Pardon and Parole Board from exceeding its jurisdiction on death penalty and life without parole cases.
“The Pardon and Parole Board’s controversial, unprecedented actions last year in the death penalty cases of Julius Jones and others exposed a major loophole in state law that threatens proper separation of powers in government,” Pfeiffer said. “Trial and appellate courts of the judicial branch, not agencies of political appointees in the executive branch, are the proper venues for appeals on legal procedure or wrongful conviction. The Pardon and Parole Board’s function is not to re-litigate already-adjudicated and repeatedly appealed cases like that of Julius Jones, but to assess inmates’ applications for clemency with impartiality. This bill restores proper balance to the board’s duties.”
House Bill 3903 specifies that the Pardon and Parole Board is not to recommend to the governor any person for pardon, parole who was sentenced to death or to life without the possibility of parole. It provides that an inmate sentenced to death may only be considered for clemency when execution is imminent with an execution date pending, and the board may only recommend clemency for the reason of mercy or lenience. The Board may not hear a claim of actual innocence and may only recommend to the governor the grant of clemency from death to a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.
The measure also clarifies parole eligibility and removes all references to the unused sentencing matrix in state statute. The bill further states that a person sentenced for an offense listed as an 85% crime must serve 85% of the offense prior to being eligible for parole consideration. It also requires that before any hearing granting administrative parole, the board must provide 14 days of notice to any victim and the district attorney who prosecuted the case.
“Victims of crimes and those accused rely on the system of justice that is firmly established in our state and nation,” Pfeiffer said. “We have courts, judges and a jury-by-peer system that determines innocence and guilt and the appropriate length of sentencing. To allow the political appointees of the Pardon and Parole Board to weigh in on matters that are beyond the scope of their duties is a disservice to those served by our justice system. This bill clarifies for the Pardon and Parole board members what their duties are, and what they are not, and will help stop the politicization of these serious matters.”
HB3903 passed the House Judiciary – Criminal Committee with a vote of 6-5. It now is eligible to be heard on the House floor.
The bill is a continuation of efforts by Pfeiffer to improve the function of the state Pardon and Parole Board. Last year, Pfeiffer authored House Bill 2773, which requires members of the Pardon and Parole Board to uphold and promote the independence, impartiality, fairness, and integrity of the board and to avoid impropriety or the appearance of impropriety. The bill was signed into law by the governor and became effective Nov. 1.