For Immediate Release: March 17, 2003
Senator Smith Authors Bill Expanding Victims', Witnesses' Rights
A bill authored by Senator Jerry Smith, R-Tulsa, would require crime victims and witnesses to be notified that an offenders sentence could be commuted to a lesser sentence.
Under the current law, district attorneys offices are responsible for notifying victims and witnesses of scheduled court appearances, as well as informing them of procedures and their respective rights related to a criminal trial.
The statutory language proposed in SB 616 would add the stipulation that victims and witnesses must also be informed that the Governor, upon the State Pardon and Parole Boards recommendation, may approve the commutation of any sentence, including life without parole.
This is a mechanism that affords the victim or witness another right that they should have. The district attorneys office is already required to notify victims and witnesses of a number of rights, but many people are unaware that the Governor is allowed to commute a sentence upon recommendation from the State Pardon and Parole Board. I think the victims and witnesses need to know that, Senator Smith said.
According to Senator Smith, the bill was inspired in part by the 2001 sentence commutation of former Oklahoma death row inmate Phillip Dewitt Smith. Smiths sentence was commuted from death to life without parole because of evidence that surfaced after his conviction.
The commutation power of the Governor is rarely used, but you might get a case like this gentleman who was sentenced to death wrongfully -- his sentence was commuted. Victims and witnesses need to understand that this is a possibility, Smith noted.
We can always work to better inform all persons involved in the criminal justice process, and this is just another one of those rights that we should be granting.
SB 616 is currently awaiting review by the House Criminal Justice Committee.
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