Oklahoma lawmakers propose bill that prevents those sentenced to death from seeking commutation

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — A House bill could alter Oklahoma’s criminal justice system by preventing convicted individuals from seeking commutation.

HB 3903 — written by Okla. Rep. John Pfeiffer (R-District 38) ― states that the Pardon and Parole Board wouldn’t be able to recommend to the Governor anyone who was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole or death.

The bill would no longer allow commutation for death row inmates. This means their case would only appear before the Pardon and Parole Board once their execution date is scheduled. When inmates appear before the board, they can only be considered for “mercy or lenience,” and the board would not be able to hear any claims of innocence.

Additionally, the board would only be able to recommend granting clemency to the Governor for a person sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

Attorney General John O’Connor expressed his support for the bill Tuesday afternoon in a statement:

“House Bill 3903 makes commonsense changes which protect victims, promote public safety, and preserve the role of the courts while not infringing on the rights of inmates or the constitutional role of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board,” said O’Connor.

He continued, “After years of hearings and appeals, victims and Oklahomans deserve finality. I greatly appreciate Representative John Pfeiffer for authoring this legislation, and the rest of the Legislature for standing up for the rights of victims by hearing House Bill 3903.”

Some Oklahoma organizations are against the bill.

The Catholic Conference of Oklahoma released a statement Tuesday.

“The Catholic bishops of Oklahoma cautioned Tuesday against language in a bill that would remove the option for clemency in death penalty cases and not allow new evidence of possible innocence to be presented to the state Pardon and Parole Board,” according to their statement.

“This amendment only serves to punish the parole board for its recent clemency recommendations and does nothing to continue the state’s focus on prison reform that has been championed by both Republicans and Democrats,” Most Rev. Paul S. Coakley, Archbishop of Oklahoma City, and Most Rev. David A. Konderla, Bishop of Tulsa said.

The Oklahoma House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on the bill Wednesday.