commutation of sentence

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com·mu·ta·tion / ˌkämyəˈtāshən/ • n. 1. action or the process of commuting a judicial sentence. ∎  the conversion of a legal obligation or entitlement into another form, e.g., the replacement of an annuity or series of payments by a single payment. 2. the process of commutating an electric current. 3. Math. the property of having a commutative relation.

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commutation was the change from meeting feudal obligations in labour or in kind to cash payments. It had obvious advantages for the lord, since serf labour was often grudging and unenthusiastic and hired labour did not need the same army of organizers: the serf or tenant knew more precisely what his obligations were and could plan his time. Boon work at harvest time was slowest to be commuted since there was bound to be a temporary shortage of labour then. The rate at which commutation took place varied from manor to manor and from region to region, according to local supply and demand of labour, nor was there a regular and steady progress towards a moneyed economy. But a process which began in the 12th cent. accelerated in the 14th, and was almost completed by the 16th cent.

J. A. Cannon

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Modification, exchange, or substitution.

Commutation is the replacement of a greater amount by something lesser. To commute periodic payments means to substitute a single payment for a number of payments, or to come to a "lump sum" settlement.

In criminal law, commutation is the substitution of a lesser punishment for a greater one. Contrasted with clemency, which is an act of grace eliminating a sentence or punishment, commutation is the modification or reduction of a punishment.

The change from consecutive prison sentences to concurrent sentences is a commutation of punishment.