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mid-15c., from Old French commutacion "change, transformation, exchange, barter" (13c., Modern French commutation), from Latin commutationem (nominative commutatio) "a change, alteration," noun of action from past participle stem of commutare "to change, alter entirely" (see commute (v.)).
in law, shortening of a term of punishment or lowering of the level of punishment. For example, a 10-year jail sentence may be commuted to 5 years, or a sentence of death may be commuted to life in prison. Often, after a person has served part of his sentence, the remainder is commuted owing to specific circumstances. Commutation of sentence differs from pardon, which, if unconditional, removes the stigma both of the court decision and of the punishment and restores the person's civil rights; commutation does neither. Commutation is also distinguished from reprieve, which merely delays or temporarily suspends the sentence