How Can I Get a Pardon in Pennsylvania?

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Nov 09, 2017 | 0 Comments

When a person is arrested and charged with a crime in Pennsylvania, shock can turn into fear of what comes next.  If a person is not fortunate enough to be found not guilty, or have their charges resolved in an otherwise agreeable manner, through ARD, for example, the person will be faced with harsh reality of having a criminal record.

When should I consider getting a pardon in Pennsylvania?

Although a criminal record may not fundamentally affect some people's lives, this is the exception and not the rule.  For most people, especially those who are trying to advance their careers, education, or merely move forward in life, a criminal record can unfortunately cause a lifetime of consequences.  A person with a criminal record should always determine whether an expungement or a record sealing is possible, but if it is learned that neither is an option, a pardon may have to be considered depending on a person's particular circumstances and how important it is to have their record cleared.

Per Pennsylvania law, if a person pleads guilty or is convicted of a felony or misdemeanor, he or she will be ineligible to have those charges expunged unless exceptional circumstances exist.  If a person pleaded guilty or was convicted of an ungraded misdemeanor or a misdemeanor of the 2nd or 3rd degree, a person may be eligible for a record sealing if other specific conditions are met; including waiting ten years after the case is closed without incurring any new arrests or prosecutions.  Because the law in Pennsylvania is not lenient when a person is trying to clear their record, the only option at times may be to seek a pardon. 

How long does the pardon process take in Pennsylvania?

People considering a seeking a pardon must understand that although the expungement and record sealing process in Pennsylvania can take 4 - 6 months from start to finish, the pardon process is a much longer and intensive process; taking anywhere from 2 - 4 years. Nonetheless, sometimes a pardon is a person's only hope and must therefore be pursued.

What are the steps in the Pennsylvania pardon process?

As to the prospect of a pardon, as noted, if a person pleaded guilty or was convicted of a misdemeanor of the first degree (M1) or a felony, unless any other exceptions exist (over 70 years old for example), the only other possible option is to pursue a pardon when appropriate.  When the decision to pursue a pardon is being made, it must be understood that a petitioner has to have satisfied all conditions of their sentence before a pardon has any chance of being realistically pursued, and the totality of the circumstances will ultimately be considered by the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons when the decision regarding whether a pardon hearing is granted (Step One) or a pardon itself is granted (Step Two).  Pardons are not easy to achieve, however.

Pursuing a Governor's Pardon is much different than pursuing an expungement.  It many instances, pursuing a pardon can take 2 to 4 years from start to finish because of the steps involved in the process.  More specifically, pursuing and being granted a pardon is a "two step" process:

  • Step One is to seek and be granted a hearing before the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons in Harrisburg.  If Step One is successful:
  • Step Two is to appear in Harrisburg before the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons to argue why the pardon should be granted. 

Will my record be cleared if I am granted a pardon in Pennsylvania?

Although being granted a pardon will not clear a person's criminal record (as an expungement would), being granted a pardon is a necessary condition to thereafter petition the applicable Pennsylvania Court to have the criminal charges for which a person was pardoned thereafter expunged.  Criminal charges that were previously ineligible for an expungement either on their face or because no exceptions exist will be eligible to be expunged after a pardon is granted.

What information will be considered during the pardon process in Pennsylvania?

A list of some relevant (basic) information that will be considered by the Board of Pardons when determining if a pardon hearing will be granted is as follows:

  • Residence: rental agreement, mortgage statements, rent receipts, etc. as applicable;
  • Marital Status and Family Composition: marriage decrees, divorce decrees, birth and or death certificates, etc. as applicable;
  • Employment: pay stubs, W2's, evidence of income to include alimony, unemployment, VA benefits, etc. as applicable;
  • Resources: investment statements, life insurance policies, checking and savings account statements, total family income, value of all property to include vehicles, vacation property, rental property; etc. as applicable;
  • Liabilities and Indebtedness: loan statements, mortgage statements, installment (credit card) statements, delinquency on any utilities, etc. as applicable;
  • Membership in Organizations and/or other Civic Organizations: membership cards for any volunteer, civic, church related organizations, etc. as applicable;
  • Religious interests: interests and activities of the Applicant, as applicable;
  • Mobility and Travel: addresses and dates of residences for the past ten years;
  • Employment History: record of jobs held for the past ten years as shown by W2's, pay stubs, etc. as applicable;
  • Educational History: history of education as shown by diplomas, certificates, transcripts, etc. as applicable;
  • Military Service: branch of service, dates of entry and discharge, type of discharge, rank attained as shown by a DD-214; as applicable;
  • Community Reputation and Reference: names and contact information of at least 3-5 references to be contacted by the investigating Agent, or letters of support.

Ultimately, the "totality of the circumstances" regarding a petitioner's criminal history, including the specifics of the case against the petitioner; how the case was disposed of; how long ago the case ended; what the petitioner has been doing since the case ended; the petitioner's future goals; the petitioner's contributions to society, the community, etc.; and related considerations, would all be factors in whether a pardon will be granted.  In most instances, it is not an easy feat to have a pardon granted, but it is also not impossible. 

What happens after I am granted a pardon?

As noted above, from start to finish the pardon process in Pennsylvania can take 2 - 4 years.  If a petitioner is willing to invest the time and effort to be granted a pardon, the necessary step to clear one's criminal record should thereafter be taken.  Due to the fact that the pardon itself does not clear the petitioner's record, after a pardon is granted, the petitioner has to seek an expungement of the actual charges that were not eligible to be expunged or sealed.  To seek an expungement, the applicable court of common pleas in the Pennsylvania county in which the criminal case originated has to be petitioned.  If the case was supervised by any other Pennsylvania county (or counties) while the person was on probation or parole for example, the court of common pleas of the supervising county (or counties) would also have to be petitioned.  Thankfully, pursuing a expungement thereafter to clear one's record once a pardon is granted is usually a much more expedient process (approximately 4 - 6 months from start to finish).

Pennsylvania Pardon Attorney | Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney

Although seeking a pardon in Pennsylvania is a difficult process, being granted a pardon can offer relief that would otherwise be unavailable to a person with a criminal record.  Attorney Joseph D. Lento knows how to maximize the chances of success throughout the pardon process and he can also make a difficult process manageable.  Contact him today to learn how he can help.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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