What are we to infer about Gov. Kevin Stitt’s day-of decision to alter Julius Jones’ sentence from death to life in prison?
We know what we’ve been told about Stitt’s decision from his press release. He said he believes it was within his Oklahoma Constitutional authority to commute the sentence, but not to offer parole as part of it.
From the release:
“Article 6, Section 10 of the Oklahoma Constitution gives the Governor power to grant commutations ‘upon such conditions and with such restrictions and limitations as the Governor may deem proper.’
Pursuant to that provision, the Governor has ordered that Jones shall not be eligible to apply for or be considered for a commutation, pardon, or parole for the remainder of his life.”
Is it, in fact, pursuant?
What was that last part?
The governor, based on really no precedent that anyone has found, believes it is within his authority to prevent a future governor from pardoning Jones. That’s iffy, and we would wonder why a governor by writ or decree would assume that authority in a decision that could have just simply been a full pardon. Why the extra push for new executive authority?
CNHI Oklahoma reporter Janelle Stecklein reports that Stitt’s order has a lot of lawyers and law-adjacent folks stumped.
“I think the question is an open one in terms of not previously being decided in Oklahoma,” law professor Maria Kolar told Stecklein. “But I think it would be quite surprising if a court were to hold that he did have that power.”
Kolar said it “would be strange indeed” if a sitting governor could limit constitutional authority granted to the Pardon and Parole Board and to future governors, so she considered it unlikely that Stitt’s order can actually bind those future institutions.
The Governor’s Office on Friday issued a statement saying that “the life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole is absolutely permanent. Julius Jones will never be eligible to apply for or be considered for or receive any additional commutation, pardon or parole.”
What we find strange is that the order seems to have little to do with actual death sentences resuming in Oklahoma, and the grotesque failure that stemmed from the first new execution. Yes, it is constitutional that Oklahoma puts people to death that have been sentenced to death, but Oklahoma also has to allow that those deaths cannot be cruel.
Jones’ case aside, there needs to be a stay of executions with the state going back to the drawing board.