Receiving a pardon in Pennsylvania is a long and drawn-out process. Yet if a person convicted of severe crimes receives one, it may be the only way to regain civil liberties, find a job, and restore their reputation. Even more, a pardon in Pennsylvania means a clean record. As of October 29, 2020, pardon applications approved by the governor come with an automatic expungement.
In 2020, Governor Tom Wolf granted 124 pardons out of a recommended 570. The majority of these cases – roughly 70% – included nonviolent offenses. Governor Wolf's 2020 pardons starkly differ from the previous two years, which saw 295 pardons in 2019 and 269 in 2018. This decision is causing some backlash, especially since 2020 saw a higher-than-usual number of rejections recommended by the board.
(Image Source: https://www.bop.pa.gov/Statistics/Pages/Statistics-by-Year.aspx)
While the reasons vary, and the Board of Pardons does not have the power to decide whether an applicant is innocent or guilty, hiring an attorney to handle your case matters. Although an attorney won't expedite the speed at which your case makes it to the board, they are knowledgeable about the process. A lawyer represents you during hearings and understands what factors increase your likelihood of receiving a pardon and what steps to take to clear your record.
What is a Pardon?
Pardons in PA extend back to the 1700s, but the process differed from today. A pardon is a procedure that entails the Pennsylvania Governor's Board of Pardons receiving and reviewing applications to recommend clemency to the governor.
The board has an immense responsibility in this regard, one that it doesn't take lightly. The cases receive serious and meticulous review before sending the clemency recommendation.
Clemency gives a person “relief” from a sentence that the court grants. While the board's approval to grant clemency is neither a confirmation nor denial of innocence, the Board of Pardons decides whether to recommend “mercy” depending on the case's details.
The Board's Role
The Board of Pardons reviews the applications for clemency. The board members include the PA Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, a mental health specialist, a corrections expert, and a victim representative.
Most cases have a fair chance of receiving review except for impeachment. While less severe crimes are more likely to receive a clemency recommendation, multiple instances exist where the board grants it for felonies. Whether the applicant gets a pardon depends on the governor.
Benefits of a Pardon
In the past, a pardon meant that a person could restore some of their rights and civil liberties. However, it did not mean an automatic expungement. Thus, if a person wants to seek employment, their employer could see their criminal background.
As PA faces high employment rates and a criminal conviction means legal disability in multiple areas, these laws are changing. Both incarcerated individuals and those who have a criminal record can apply. Today, a pardon in PA:
- Reinstates a person's right to vote if the person is an incarcerated felon
- Allows a person to hold positions in a public office or become a juror
- It helps clear a person to fly internationally
- Reinstates firearm rights
- Allows a person to join the military
When one receives a pardon in PA, they don't have to disclose their criminal background to an employer and even claim it never happened. The Pennsylvania court holds that any person who receives a pardon is no longer under the state's control, is exempt from punishments, and receives relief from all legal disabilities. With so many benefits and a chance to start over, receiving a pardon is the best way to clear a criminal record.
Receiving a pardon may take years. The person wishing to apply must have the right documents and pay the necessary fees to start the process. It is during this time when the help of a lawyer becomes invaluable. Your attorney makes sure that you have all the documents necessary to complete your application. This step reduces the likelihood of rejection or re-submitting missing paperwork, which further prolongs the process.
According to the Board of Pardons, applicants must submit particular documents depending on their age, status, and county. However, some forms are universal regardless of the case, such as:
- The police criminal complaint
- Affidavit of Probable Cause
- Criminal Information
- The verdict or plea
- Sentencing Order
- Payment Proof
Those sentenced by a Common Pleas Court judge can get their documents from the Magisterial District Judge. As for people convicted through a Municipal Judge, they must obtain their records from the Municipal Court.
If applicants can't receive the forms from the Municipal Court, they must present a letter. This requirement doesn't apply for those convicted through the Common Pleas Court, and the records don't stay on file for more than seven years.
For Incarcerated Individuals
Incarcerated applicants do not need to present documents from the court to apply. However, they still must obtain the application packet from the facility's library. They can apply online, which takes less time, or through the mail, which takes about three weeks to process.
The Application: Step-By-Step
Requesting an Application: The person must send a letter to the Board of Pardons asking for an application and pay an $8.00 fee through check or money order.
- Documents: Once the board responds, they will include a list of information and documents that they need. Applicants must also send their driving records from the PA DOT and a passport photo. Note: It may take up to half a year to obtain some of the documents, like your criminal history from the State Police.
- Gather Information: With your lawyer's help, you must start gathering the original documents and materials for your application. Although not mandatory, statements from others attesting to your character can help with your case.
- Filling the Application: The application is lengthy, so make sure to go over all the pages. Pay the most attention to the part where you must explain the nature of the crime and why you believe you deserve a pardon. Your lawyer can help you formulate a strong and convincing argument for your case.
- Make Copies and Send: You must make five copies of the application and add all the documents in an envelope. Include a $25.00 money order and over the application several times before sending it in. If there are missing forms, the board will send your application back.
The Board's Process
Once the Board of Pardons receives your application, it takes about four months to confirm. Afterward, another process begins, which determines whether the board will recommend you for clemency.
- Investigation: The BOP notifies the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole regarding the applicant.
- Receiving an Agent: The Board of Probation and Parole assigns an agent to your case. The agent starts an investigation regarding your conviction and the details of your case, determining if they will ask for a meeting.
- Meeting: The agent requests an appointment with you and may ask for supporting documents. You must make sure to have all documents ready, or the application will not make it to the Board of Pardons.
- The Vote: Five members make up the board, and they cast a vote to determine if a hearing is necessary. Two out of three members must vote in favor for the case to go to a hearing. If the applicant is in prison, three members must vote in favor.
- Notification: The applicant and all parties interested in the case receive a notice of the hearing time and date.
Although the hearing is not an official process, it determines whether your case makes it to the governor. Applicants only have 15 minutes to present their case, witnesses, and explain how their life is different or what they are doing to move on from their past.
After the hearing, the board reviews the case's details, starting from the crime, why and when it happened, how this conviction is causing hardship. Most importantly, they also examine how the applicant is currently living, how they are changing after the crime, and how well they present their case.
Although you can go through the process alone, having a lawyer like Joseph D. Lento helps you during this nerve-wracking time. Attorney Lento has a thorough understanding of the PA legal system and enables you to understand what you're facing. From gathering the right witnesses to helping you present your case during your hearing, you'll have a comprehensive idea of what to expect to increase your likelihood of a clemency recommendation.
Three board members must vote in your favor to receive a clemency vote. After this, the board sends the clemency recommendation to the governor.
While the process is straightforward, it will take time for the hearing and the governor's decision. Ideally, the governor will quickly grant the pardon, but the board clarifies no set time frame for the process.
Why You Need an Attorney
There are bottlenecks in the pardons system, and demand for clemency is increasing. When you are an applicant with your life and career on the line, every second is essential. There is nothing more frustrating than knowing that due to one form, your clemency application is going to take four more months to process.
Another point to consider is how an attorney can save you time if you don't have a strong chance to receive a recommendation. Whether you are already going through the process or thinking about applying, having an attorney by your side makes it easier and more effective in the long run.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has a wealth of experience working with applicants who want to get their life back on track. In addition to the moral and legal support, you also benefit from Mr. Lento's knowledge of the PA pardons process and what works in your favor during a hearing.
When you have an attorney for your clemency request, you can expect:
- The Truth: While anyone can file for a clemency recommendation, not all individuals can make it to a hearing. Unfortunately, they only realize this after they pay the fees and begin the process. You will undergo a background check with an attorney to determine if your case is strong enough to make it to the governor.
- Accurate Documentation: Your lawyer can find precise information regarding your prior convictions, even if you aren't sure of the charges.
- Easier Filing: The application is several pages long and can contain information that is difficult to find. An attorney helps you complete your application in time, without making mistakes, and can even file on your behalf with the right information.
- Presenting a Strong Application: An experienced pardon attorney will be able to present the strongest picture of the pardon applicant to the Board during the application process. Your attorney will work with the supporting documentation and information regarding an applicant and will leverage that to create an application that will be seriously considered by the Board for a potential hearing.
- Strong Representation During Hearing: With a knowledgeable defense attorney like Joseph D. Lento, you don't have to face the hearing process alone. It becomes less intimidating and gives you a chance to present in the best manner, with evidence and witnesses to corroborate your claims of a better life in the present.
- Moral Support: Although the process can have its complications, it is the wait, which can take years, that takes a toll on applicants. Even if the filer is not in prison, the impact of a criminal record is overwhelming.
An attorney helps you understand the facts, know your options, and identifies if a potential window can help you receive a favorable outcome for your case.
Call the Lento Law Firm
With so much at stake, you need a skilled PA criminal defense attorney who understands your predicament and works to clear your name. A criminal background doesn't have to be a perpetual problem, especially when you're trying to turn your life around.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has unparalleled experience working with applicants who plan to file for a pardon, especially with the new laws signed in October. With his aggressive representation and unique methodology, attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm give you the confidence to appear in front of a hearing and get your life back on track.
If there is a chance for you to clear your record and start over, you don't have to suffer, even with the backlog in pardon applications.
Call Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 for a confidential and discreet discussion of your PA pardon application.