A pardon sounds like something the Pennsylvania governor issues to a death-row inmate just hours before they're scheduled to be executed. The truth is, pardons aren't usually nearly so dramatic. Anyone can go through the process of applying for a pardon, and it can be an excellent way to clear your criminal past from your permanent record. The process of obtaining a pardon isn't a simple one, though, and you'll need an attorney who specializes in these kinds of applications to help.
Why Would You Want a Pardon?
If you've ever been convicted of a crime, you know how difficult it can be to live with a criminal record. Your punishment should have ended once you did your time, or served your probation, or satisfied the conditions of your parole. It didn't, though.
In our culture, background checks have become a way of life. It seems as though everyone runs them now:
- Rental agencies, apartment complexes, and landlords
- State licensing agencies
- Colleges and universities
- US Military
- Financial institutions
As a result, many who have already fully paid their debt to society, frequently find themselves unable to get a job, find housing, or get an education.
Given this situation, it's no surprise that more and more people are looking for options that help to clear their record and give them a fresh start. Pennsylvania has done a great deal in recent years to provide these kinds of opportunities. One important option is to seek a pardon.
Is this the right option for you? You'll need to carefully consider what a pardon is and what it takes to get a pardon. You'll also want to look into hiring a qualified, experienced lawyer to help. If you should have questions as you're learning about pardons, or want to ask about your specific circumstances, remember that the Lento Law firm is only a phone call away.
What is a Pardon?
In legal terms, a pardon is a very specific act of clemency or forgiveness offered to those who have been convicted of breaking the law. Just as you've seen on television, only the state governor can issue a pardon. However, the process of applying for a pardon is much easier than shows like Perry Mason and Law and Order make it seem. The real decisions, in fact, are usually made by the Board of Pardons and simply approved by the Governor's office.
A pardon is designed to restore all the rights and privileges you gave up when you were originally convicted. The court may have prohibited you from purchasing or owning a firearm, for example. Or you may be barred from voting in elections. If you are granted a pardon, these rights are restored to you. In addition, your conviction is erased. Law enforcement and the courts are instructed to treat your conviction as though it never happened. You are supposed to be protected from any penalty you might face as a result of having committed the offense.
It is important to recognize that a pardon is not the same as an expungement, another option for those who have been convicted of crimes in Pennsylvania. An expungement, for instance, is designed to completely erase your criminal record. A pardon also isn't a sealing of your record so that no one can see it. Rather a pardon serves to formally acknowledge that you have turned your life around and deserve a clean slate.
These differences are perhaps most pronounced when it comes to background checks. If you've been pardoned, your criminal past will still show up when you apply to rent an apartment. However, the record will also show that the Governor pardoned you. That kind of positive endorsement tends to hold sway with most people and should allow you to pass the background check.
What Does the Pardoning Process Look Like?
One of the best aspects of the pardon process is that anyone can apply. Expungements, in contrast, are only available to persons who have committed very particular crimes, usually misdemeanors. In addition, to be eligible for an expungement, you may have to maintain a clean record for up to ten years.
By the same token, however, there are no particular qualifications that can make you more or less likely to obtain a pardon. Rather each application is reviewed on a case-by-case basis by the Board of Pardons. Of course, you can maximize your chances of receiving a pardon by consulting an attorney as you go through the process. A lawyer can let you know up-front whether a pardon might be likely and can help you prepare a strong case.
Your attorney can begin the process by requesting an official pardon application from the Board of Pardons. This application requires you to provide important facts about your background, such as your employment history, your educational history, and your criminal history. ‘'
You'll need to include supporting documents:
- Proof of residences
- Information about marital status
- Employment background
- Record of financial resources
- List of financial liabilities
- Organizational membership records
- Military records
- List of references
Successful applications also typically include:
- A full admission of your guilt as well as a demonstration of your remorse for having committed the crime
- An explanation of why you need a pardon and/ or how you will make use of it (employment opportunities, housing, loan applications, custody battles, etc.)
- An explanation of why you deserve a pardon (evidence of your reform, clean criminal record, etc.)
Once the Board of Pardons receives your application, they will instruct the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole to conduct a complete investigation. Typically, this investigation will include an extensive interview, during which you will be asked to expand on items in your application.
3. Merit Review
Following the investigation, agents from the Board of Probation and Parole will submit a full report of their findings to the Board of Pardons. The Board of Pardons then conducts a “merit review,” in which they examine the particulars in the report. If two of the five Board of Pardon members are convinced by your application, the Board schedules a hearing on your case.
At the Board of Pardons hearing, you'll have the chance to make your case for why you should be pardoned. Here you'll want to explain in more detail what you did, what proves you have reformed since committing your crime, and how a pardon would benefit you. You may also have supportive speakers talk on your behalf. Applicants are allowed just fifteen minutes to present.
Once the hearing is over, the Board of Pardons will meet and vote on whether or not to approve your application and recommend the governor issue a pardon.
6. Governor's Decision
Finally, if your application has been approved, your request for a pardon will travel to the Governor's Office for a last review. If the Governor grants your pardon, the process of clearing your record can officially begin.
Should the Governor refuse to grant your pardon, that decision is considered final. However, you may ask the Board of Pardons to reconsider your case if you can show that your circumstances have changed or that there is some other compelling reason why your case deserves another review.
Joseph D. Lento: Dauphin County Pardon Attorney
While a pardon represents an important legal option for many in Pennsylvania who are looking to start their lives over, no pardon is guaranteed. The process is complicated, and because the Board of Pardons receives so many applications each year, it can take some time to complete.
Additionally, many applications never make it even to the merit review. Even fewer wind up being approved by the Governor. In 2020, for instance, Governor Wolf granted just 438 pardons in total.
All of this means that if you are considering applying for a pardon in Pennsylvania, you are going to need the help of an experienced attorney. An attorney can help you prepare your application, shepherd that application through the review process, and advise you on how to present your case to the Board of Pardons.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has years of experience working on Pennsylvania pardons. He is an expert in the art of negotiation and knows how to create an application package that will speak to the concerns of the Board of Pardons. Attorney Joseph D. Lento also understands that your case is unique. He is responsive to your needs and your particular situation.
If you're a Dauphin County resident planning to apply for a pardon in Pennsylvania, don't wait. The process can take time, and it's best to start sooner rather than later. For more information, contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.