If you live in Monroe County, PA, and you have been convicted of a crime and have completed your sentence, chances are you already know that your criminal conviction continues to haunt you even though you've repaid your debt to society. That conviction will continue to show up on criminal background checks, possibly for the rest of your life, making it difficult to get hired, get professional licensure, apply for loans, join the army, enroll in school, or find a home. You may wonder if there is any hope for you to move forward and become a productive member of society.
However, if you would like to move past your criminal conviction and you accept full responsibility for your actions, you do have some options. Not only have recent changes in Pennsylvania law made it easier for some people to have their criminal records sealed and/or cleared through record sealing and expungement, but the pardon process also makes it possible for certain candidates to have even previous felony charges removed from their records.
Understandably, pardons in Pennsylvania don't come easy. Pardons can only be issued by the Governor of Pennsylvania, and even getting your request for a pardon to the Governor's desk is a long and complicated process. To ensure the best possible chance of success, you should consult an experienced Monroe County attorney who has experience with processing pardons. For many years, Pennsylvania attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped people with criminal convictions get their lives back on track. If you're interested in learning more about how to seek a pardon, the Lento Law Firm has compiled the following information to help you.
What's a Pardon?
A pardon in Pennsylvania is a legal form of forgiveness for a criminal offense granted by the Governor. Pardons are essentially a way to restore all rights and privileges you once enjoyed as a law-abiding citizen but were denied due to a conviction for a crime. When you are pardoned, it is as though your conviction never happened.
Who Is Eligible to Apply for a Pardon in Pennsylvania?
Anyone who has been convicted of a crime in Pennsylvania and has completed their sentence may apply for a pardon. Unlike rules for expungement, there are no set criteria for who qualifies for a pardon; every case is considered individually by the Board of Pardons and the Governor. That said, you are more likely to receive a pardon if your conviction was more than five years ago (for a minor offense) and more than ten years ago (for a major offense). It also helps your case if you can demonstrate that you have not committed any additional crimes since your sentence was served.
The Application Process for a Pardon in Pennsylvania
Obtaining a pardon is a tedious and time-consuming process, one that requires plenty of patience as each step in the process is completed. You can apply for a pardon on your own behalf, but your chances of approval go up considerably if you have a Monroe County pardon attorney coordinating the process on your behalf. The full process is outlined below.
Applying for the Pardon
Your attorney will request a pardon application to be sent over. Once completed, the attorney will submit it to the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons. You will need to gather extensive documentation to submit along with your application, which may take some time to bring together. Among the materials you'll need are a copy of your entire PA criminal record, educational history, employment history, driving history, and other details. You are also encouraged to send along supplementary materials such as letters of recommendation, lists or achievements, a personal written statement, and any other information that may demonstrate your commitment to reform.
In a nutshell, your full pardon application should convey the following key points:
- An admission of guilt and demonstration of remorse over the offense
- The stated reasons why you need a pardon (e.g., you're struggling to gain employment, seek a professional license, obtain housing, etc.)
- An explanation as to why you're a good candidate for a pardon and why your application should be considered
After your application has been completed and any supplementary materials have been gathered, your attorney will submit it to the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons.
Once the Board has received your application, it will be forwarded to the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, who will review it and assign a parole agent to it. The agent will conduct a full investigation of your case and the circumstances that led to your conviction. Most likely, you will be contacted by the agent for a personal interview. You may also be asked for additional documentation.
Board of Pardons Merit Review
Upon completing the investigation, the parole agent will submit to the Board of Pardons an entire report detailing all findings, at which time the Board will conduct a “merit review” of your application and the report. This review will determine whether you are allowed to move on to the next stage of the pardon process, which is a public hearing. At least two of the five members of the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons must approve your application for the hearing to be scheduled. If you don't get support from at least two Board members, your application for pardon will be denied at this point.
If the Board approves your application, a public hearing will be scheduled. You will go to Harrisburg, PA, to appear before the Board in person. You may be represented by an attorney and bring character witnesses, but you will only have 15 minutes to present your case, including answering any questions the Board has for you. The more prepared you are for this hearing, the better.
Most likely, yours will be only one of several cases the Board will consider at the public hearing. After hearing from all applicants, the Board will vote publicly whether or not to recommend a pardon for you. At least three of the five Board members must recommend that you be pardoned. Your pardon application will go to the Governor for review if it is approved.
Although the Board of Pardons holds a lot of sway over who is considered for a pardon, ultimately, the Governor of Pennsylvania will make the final decision whether to pardon you for your crimes. If the Governor grants your pardon, the records will be sealed on your criminal conviction, so it no longer appears on background checks. You may also, at that point, petition the court for a full expungement.
What Are Some of the Benefits of a Pardon?
A pardon will, in most cases, have the effect of eliminating all barriers to employment, housing loans, and professional licensures by removing all mention of your crime from your criminal record. Additionally, you'll have restored to you virtually all rights of citizenship that were taken from you when you were convicted of the crime. This includes the right to travel internationally, be a member of a jury, serve in the military, hold office, and in many cases, own or possess firearms.
What Crimes Are Eligible for a Pardon?
Pennsylvania allows you to apply for a pardon for any criminal conviction, regardless of whether it is a summary offense, misdemeanor, or felony. Recent reforms to Pennsylvania criminal law have made it easier for minor offenses to be expunged or sealed, so that may be a better alternative for those convicted of minor offenses. Serious misdemeanors and felonies are typically not eligible for expungement, so a pardon is your best and only option for getting these cleared from your record.
What Is Pennsylvania's Clean Slate Law? How Does It Impact Pardons?
The Clean Slate Law, a major reform that was first implemented in Pennsylvania in 2018, automatically seals certain criminal convictions and arrest records after a specific amount of time has elapsed, provided the person has no further arrests or convictions. This makes it much easier for more Pennsylvanians to have their criminal records cleared. In the past, a pardon did not do anything to remove a criminal conviction from one's criminal record, but the Clean Slate Law was recently expanded to allow criminal records for pardoned offenses to be automatically sealed.
Does the Clean Slate Law Automatically Erase My Criminal Record After I Receive a Pardon?
No, it doesn't. Record sealing is not the same as expungement. Sealing a record removes that record from public view so it won't appear on criminal background checks for professional licensing or employment. However, certain government databases will still show the conviction. Once you have received your pardon, however, you can take the pardon to the court where you were convicted to ask for your record to be expunged. Once this happens, all records of your conviction will be destroyed.
Is It Possible To Get a Pardon for a Sentence I Am Still Serving?
No. Pardons in Pennsylvania are only available to those who have served their sentence. You can petition the Governor for clemency instead of a pardon if you are currently serving a sentence. Your Monroe County attorney can help you with this.
Monroe County Pardon Attorney
Because applying for a pardon in Pennsylvania is an extensive legal process, your best chance for success is to hire an experienced Monroe County pardon attorney to help you with the process. To learn more, call attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686.