Your loved one was a good student but had some tough friends. Eventually those friends were involved in a murder, and your loved one got stuck with the rap. After being convicted, he or she was sentenced to life in prison. Is there hope for a release?

In some circumstances, the governor could commute their sentence. Illinois permits offenders to petition the governor for clemency through the State of Illinois Prisoner Review Board. The various types of clemency include commutation of sentence, pardon, expungement or reprieve.

While an attorney is not required, it is well worth considering getting one on board. To apply for commutation, you must submit a Petition for Executive Clemency along with supporting documentation. While just about anyone can fill out the petition, knowing how to present your loved one’s case can be a bit tricky. Be aware that the state’s attorney will likely protest any leniency, and the victim’s family may attend any hearing to protest early release in full force. Furthermore, it is best to avoid protests of innocence, which are almost never successful. An attorney can evaluate your loved one’s case and present the most positive arguments for an early release.

Upon submitting the petition, you may request a hearing before the Prisoner Review Board in either Chicago or Springfield. If a hearing is selected, the defendant will not be allowed to attend. 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. The son of one defendant even chastised a victim’s daughter. As such, an articulate spokesperson who can make the case for your loved one’s release is essential. An experienced attorney can help prepare the testimony of witnesses to make a good impression as well.

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.

If you have questions about this or another related Illinois criminal or traffic matter, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email

(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Wilmette and Winnetka.)

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