Most prisoners who are found guilty of crimes such as murder appeal their sentences. In the vast majority of cases, these appeals are turned down. For some defendants, however, there is still hope. Illinois permits offenders to petition the governor through the State of Illinois Prisoner Review Board for a commutation–or shortening–of their sentence.

To start, you must file a petition with the Board along with all supporting documentation including a personal history. While an attorney is not required, it is well worth considering one. While just about anyone can fill out the form itself, knowing how to present your loved one’s case can be a bit tricky–especially since the state’s attorney may protest any leniency, and the victim’s family may attend any hearing in full force. An attorney can help you present the most favorable arguments for an early release.

Upon filing the petitioning, you may request a hearing before the Board in either Chicago or Springfield. The defendant will not be allowed to attend the hearing. As such, a highly articulate spokesperson who can make the case for your loved one’s early release is essential. While the testimony of family members and friends is important, an experienced attorney can also prepare these witnesses to make a good impression. The board will likely have questions, and they will listen carefully to any answers.

In my practice, I have watched unrepresented parties damage their loved one’s chance of commutation through ill-considered comments. One man even chastised a victim’s daughter.

If your loved one accepts responsibility for what happened and has a clean record during his or her years of detention, you may have grounds for a successful petition to commute the sentence to time served.

See State of Illinois Prisoner Review Board Executive Clemency and Expungement.