After you've been convicted of a crime in Pennsylvania, you may consider applying for a pardon from the Governor. Unpardoned crimes deny you many rights that you would otherwise have if you weren't convicted. Without these rights and privileges, leading daily life can be difficult.
The biggest benefit of obtaining a pardon is restoring rights you lost when you were convicted, such as being eligible for government aid again. There are several other reasons why you should consider applying for a pardon for your misdemeanor or felony.
Why Should You Get a Pardon?
Although the process is long and gathering necessary paperwork can be burdensome, the benefits of having a pardon outweigh the hassle. You'll increase your employment opportunities, allow you to obtain professional licenses once again, restore your gun rights, be able to access government aid programs and loans, and run for public office. If, after obtaining a pardon, you have your records expunged, the state will remove the physical and electronic records of your arrest and conviction entirely.
Having a criminal record can be an impediment to employment. A potential employer that knows about your conviction may hesitate to hire you. Safeguards are in place in Pennsylvania for those with criminal records trying to get jobs, to some extent. Employers are not supposed to deny you the job based solely on your conviction and must consider your suitability for the position as well. In Philadelphia, employers can't run a background check until after they offer you the job.
Despite these protections, those with criminal records still face employment difficulties. However, if you obtain a pardon, the state will automatically seal those records under the new Article 83 of Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate Act. Once the state seals your pardoned conviction, only employers who go through the F.B.I. for background checks will be able to see your sealed record (and many employers do not use the F.B.I. to do background checks). If you go one step further and have a pardoned crime expunged, the courts and police won't be able access your pardoned offense at all.
It's important, however, to note that certain records related to your offense may always be discovered. If you obtain a pardon, your pardon application and the accompanying documents, including your rap sheet, will remain part of the public record. Moreover, there are many private databases that may also contain your records. You should consult a Pennsylvania pardon and expungement attorney to ensure you can remove those records.
Restored gun rights
When you're convicted of a crime, you lose the right to bear arms and the right to conceal and carry. Some crimes that strip you of your firearms rights in Pennsylvania include (but are not limited to):
- Felony offenses involving violence
- Drug crimes that resulted in imprisonment of two years
- Three or more DUI offenses within five years
- Domestic violence offenses
Once you're pardoned, your conviction will no longer appear on your background check when you purchase a firearm. You also regain the right to conceal and carry in Pennsylvania.
Access government aid and programs
A criminal record impacts your ability to access government benefit programs in Pennsylvania. If you have outstanding bench warrants, violate your probation, or don't fulfill your restitution, you may also have trouble accessing government programs. Specifically, you may not be eligible for subsidized housing with a criminal history. In Philadelphia, for example, Public Housing Authority has the right to deny you housing based on your criminal record and evict you because of your past crimes.
A pardon will prevent these kinds of government services from seeing your criminal background, allowing you a fairer chance to obtain government aid if you need it.
Official verification from the Governor
If you receive a pardon, you have certification from the Governor of Pennsylvania that your crimes are forgiven. Once the Governor has made a decision, no other state agency, representative, or entity can revoke or overturn it. If you have a more serious crime such as a felony pardoned, it also allows you to seek an expungement, and have your record wiped clean.
Professional or occupational licenses
Conviction of a crime may prevent you from holding certain professional or occupational licenses. A pardon can restore your ability to obtain some of these licenses. Without a pardon, some professions that require licenses (architects, podiatrists, pharmacists, veterinarians, nail technicians, engineers, etc.) are allowed to revoke professional licenses if you commit a felony or a misdemeanor related to the trade. Your crime may also prevent you from obtaining a professional license in the first place.
However, if you obtain a pardon from the governor, under § 9124 of Title 18 of Pennsylvania’s Consolidated Statutes, licensing agencies under both the Commonwealth and the Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs in the Department of State likely cannot even consider your conviction in your application for a license, permit, certificate, or registration.
Several professional boards are covered under the Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs, and thus subject to this rule about pardons:
- Auctioneer examiners
- Barber examiners
- Certified real estate appraisers
- Crane operators
- Engineers, land surveyors, geologists
- Funeral directors
- Landscape architects
- Massage therapy
- Navigation commission
- Nursing home administrators
- Occupational therapy
- Osteopathic medicine
- Physical therapy
- Real estate commission
- Social workers, marriage and family therapists, professional counselors
- Speech language pathology and audiology
- Vehicle manufacturers, dealers, and salespersons
- Veterinary medicine
Run for office
In most states, Pennsylvania included, you cannot run for elected office if you have a criminal history. Specifically, you cannot be elected to the Pennsylvania General Assembly or hold any “office of trust or profit” with any of the following convictions:
- Embezzlement of public moneys
- Any felony under Pennsylvania law
If you ever planned on running for elected office in the commonwealth but your criminal record prevented you, you may have that restriction lifted with a pardon from the Governor.
Sit on a jury
When you're incarcerated, you lose the right to vote as well as the right to sit on a jury. Once you're released from imprisonment, you're allowed to vote again without a pardon. You may not, however, sit on a jury without first obtaining a pardon. While most people would rather not have jury duty, it's still a right that's denied you as a convicted criminal. Reinstating this right makes you equal to your peers again.
Serve in the military
A criminal conviction may prevent you from enlisting in the military. While the military can still see your criminal record even if you have it wiped clean with an expungement, a pardon for your crime is one form of proof that you're sorry and willing to abide by the law from now on. The military may look more favorably on a past crime if you managed to obtain official forgiveness from the Pennsylvania governor. When it comes to pardons and expungements and the military, it's important to know that each branch of the Armed Forces has its own standards for felonies and misdemeanors.
Will a Pardon Affect Your Immigration Status?
As a non-U.S. citizen, certain crimes may make you eligible for deportation or inadmissible for entry into the U.S. Getting a pardon may not necessarily prevent you from being deported, nor does a pardon prevent U.S. immigration authorities from seeing your criminal history. Each immigration and criminal defense case is unique, so it's important to contact a qualified Pennsylvania attorney with questions about your specific situation.
What Is a Pardon?
A pardon is an act of forgiveness by the Governor of Pennsylvania for a crime you committed. A pardon restores rights that you lost upon being convicted, but it does not “erase” your criminal record. To clear your criminal history completely, you must have an expungement. A pardon, however, is a necessary step in the process toward expungement for some serious crimes.
Some crimes, such as felonies in certain categories, are not eligible for expungement. Some crimes that can't be expunged include:
- Sexual assault
- Statutory sexual assault
- Indecent assault
- Aggravated indecent assault
- Indecent exposure
- Prostitution and any related offenses
- Obscene materials and performances
However, if the governor pardons you for any of these serious crimes, you may apply to have your record expunged. Therefore, if you want to completely erase an crime in Pennsylvania that is not eligible for expungement, one way to do so is be obtaining a pardon first.
Obtaining a pardon is a lengthy and difficult process, and submitting an application does not guarantee that you will receive one. But if you have a felony or misdemeanor, you should still consider applying for a pardon. Although the process is tough, the restoration of your rights is worth the trouble you go through to obtain legal forgiveness for your crime.
Are you eligible for a pardon?
Eligibility for pardons is less strict in Pennsylvania compared to other states. The only official requirements are being a resident of Pennsylvania and having a criminal record.
Although the eligibility criteria are few, it doesn't make it any easier to obtain a pardon. Some individuals are more likely than others to receive a pardon and an experienced Pennsylvania pardon attorney can help you determine your likely success.
What Happens If You Obtain a Pardon?
When your application for a pardon is successful, and the Governor forgives your crimes, what happens exactly? Is your criminal record wiped clean? Unfortunately, after receiving a pardon, you will still have a criminal history. A pardon “forgives” your crime, meaning that the rights you lost as a result of conviction are restored. That being said, seeking an expungement of the criminal case for which you were pardoned would be a mere, albeit important, formality at that stage, although the formal expungement process would still need to be pursued.
Factors for Obtaining a Pardon
When you submit an application for a pardon, an investigation follows. This investigation will center on your role in society and your commitment to abiding by the law. The investigators will interview you as well as members of your family or people close to you to determine how well you're doing post-conviction.
- The time passed since the commission of the crime
- Completion of your sentence
- Impact of a potential pardon on the victim
- Reason you're requesting the pardon
- Improvements in your life
This list of factors isn't official, but tends to be what the board looks at most often. Remember that the board reviews each case on an individual basis, so it's impossible to say for sure which factors the Board of Pardons will look at in your pardon application.
After the Board of Pardons reviews your application and the investigation, the next step is a hearing. Getting to this point requires an investigation, an interview with a state parole agent, and approval by two members of the board.
At the hearing, you will have the chance to speak for yourself—and what you say during your hearing is crucial. Hearings don't last very long, usually not more than 15 minutes. The board will ask you questions relating to whether you're sorry for committing your crime and any interactions with law enforcement since your crime. An experienced pardon attorney can help you prepare answers to these questions so that your story is consistent.
After you give your statement and answer questions, the board will vote on approving your pardon and majority rules. Once the board approves your application, it must go to the Governor to be certified.
How long does getting a pardon take?
The pardon process in Pennsylvania is lengthy. Submitting the application can take months, as you'll have to gather documents beforehand. Once you've submitted, it could take three years before your case goes before the board for review. After the review, it could be one or two months before you get a hearing. If the hearing is successful, your pardon may not end up on the Governor's desk for one year.
In all, it could be several years before you get your pardon once you start the process. Also, keep in mind that your pardon process becomes public record. Even if you have your crime expunged, your pardon will still public.
What's the Difference Between Clemency and a Pardon?
Clemency is a general term for forgiving or reprieving a crime. A pardon is a type of clemency offered by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Other forms of clemency include a reprieve and commutation of sentence. A reprieve is an order from the Governor to postpone incarceration. A commutation is when a sentence is substituted for a lighter penalty.
Is a pardon an expungement?
A pardon is not an expungement. Expungement differs from clemency because an expungement is wiping your criminal record completely clean. Pardons, reprieves, and commutations do not erase your criminal history but restore some of your rights or make your sentence lighter.
Do You Need an Attorney for a Pardon?
While you can complete the pardoning process without legal representation, it's not a good idea. The process is long and can be burdensome, and collecting the right paperwork takes time.
You also want to ensure that you do everything correctly, because there's no possibility to appeal the decision on a pardon. The commonwealth of Pennsylvania considers a pardon as granting a special request, like a favor. Therefore, if either the Board of Pardons or the Governor decides not to grant your request, you do not have the right to ask for a different decision. If your application is rejected, you must wait 12 months before applying again.
If your pardon case moves forward to a hearing before the board, you will have to speak for yourself. An experienced pardon attorney can review the facts of your case, help you submit your application, and prepare you for the hearing. When you're standing in front of the board, defending your request for legal forgiveness to reinstate your lost rights, you want to guarantee that you're saying the right things. An experienced pardon attorney can will know how to present your case so you're more likely to get a favorable outcome.
The Lento Law Firm: Unparalleled Experience in Clearing Pennsylvania Criminal Records
Joseph D. Lento of Lento Law Firm has experience helping clients through the Pennsylvania pardon process. For questions about your pardon, contact the Firm today at 888-535-3686.