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commutation

n. the act of reducing a criminal sentence resulting from a criminal conviction by the executive clemency of the Governor of the state, or President of the United States in the case of federal crimes. This is not the same as a pardon, which wipes out the conviction or the actual or potential charge (as when President Gerald R. Ford pardoned ex-President Richard M. Nixon even without charges having been officially made-a rare instance). A pardon implies either that the conviction was wrong, that there has been complete rehabilitation of the party, or that he/she has lived an exemplary life for many years and deserves to have his/her name cleared in old age. Commutation implies the penalty was excessive or there has been rehabilitation, reform or other circumstances such as good conduct or community service. Commutation is sometimes used when there is evidence that the defendant was not guilty, but it would prove embarrassing to admit an outright error by the courts.

See also: executive clemency  pardon 

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