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Governor Tom Wolf Issues First Act of Clemency in Two Years

February 04, 2019

By Van Der Veen, Hartshorn, and Levin

On December 19, 2018, Governor Tom Wolf commuted a drug dealer’s life sentence. It was his first act of clemency in over two years. With the governor also considering commutation for another individual serving a life sentence, this is good news for anyone currently serving or facing a life sentence in Pennsylvania.

Drug Dealer Granted Commutation

According to Penn Live, Wolf has decided to commute the sentence of 60-year-old Benny Ortega. It was over two decades ago that Ortega was sentenced to life in prison after he was found guilty of selling cocaine and marijuana. According to a spokesman for Wolf, the governor made his decision based on the fact that the sentence was “egregious and inhumane.”

The Constitution of Pennsylvania, Section 9, provides that the governor of the Commonwealth may provide commutations. This section speaks mainly to pardons, but commutations are also included. Commutations are different than pardons, in that a person’s sentence may be reduced or they may be freed from jail, but they will still have a criminal record upon release.

The governor can issue a commutation as long as they have not been impeached. Still, they must put the issue in front of the Board of Pardons. In life sentence cases, such as this one, the Board must be unanimous in recommending the commutation.

While the Constitution of Pennsylvania allows for it though, it’s not something Wolf does often. This is only his third commutation since he took office, and only his second since 2016. This particular commutation does come with the condition that Ortega must spend a year in a halfway house before being fully released.

More Commutations may be on the Way

Although Wolf does not regularly issue commutations, he is currently considering another for Tina Brosius. In this case, the Board of Pardons has recommended a commutation for the woman found guilty of allowing her baby to die in a portable toilet in 1995.

The Board made their recommendation in 2017, but Wolf has not made a decision on the case just yet. Like in the case of Ortega, Brosius also has no chance of parole. In Pennsylvania, most individuals serving a life sentence will be in jail for the rest of their lives. With no chance for parole, receiving a commutation from the governor is their only hope.

Hope for Others

It once seemed as though no one serving a life sentence in Pennsylvania had much hope for commutation. With Wolf only commuting three life sentences since 2015, it seemed there was little chance he would commute more. Now though, anyone serving a life sentence in the state can have hope that they too, will have the chance to have their sentence commuted in the future.

Call a Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Lawyer who can Help

These two cases prove that anyone serving a life sentence may have their sentence commuted. However, commutation is often not likely without the help of a quality criminal defense lawyer. Of course, a criminal defense attorney can give those accused or charged of a crime the best chance of not being convicted at all.

If you have been charged or convicted of a crime, contact a criminal defense lawyer in Pennsylvania for help. Contact van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim or learn more about how we can help online. Your future is on the line, so don’t wait another minute to contact us so we can start reviewing your case.



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