We have all done things we're not proud of, and in some cases, that may result in criminal charges or a conviction that can follow you for the rest of your life. If you committed a crime and feel you received an unjust conviction – or if you believe you've paid your debt to society and desire a second chance – one possible way to clear your record is being granted an official pardon by the governor. Before petitioning for a pardon, it is important to fully understand the process, including your eligibility and what to expect each step of the way.
So what, exactly, is a pardon, and how can it help you put your past behind you? For state-level crimes, a pardon refers to an executive act of the government in a state where a crime was committed that, in essence, forgives someone for their wrongdoing. A pardon immediately nullifies all penalties related to a crime, including prison or jail time, fines, and probation. This can allow you to pursue gainful employment, better housing, and other opportunities without the restrictions or stigma associated with a criminal record.
It is important to note that a pardon does not completely erase a conviction. Your criminal history will remain on your record, so this information must still be disclosed in situations where it is requested – however, a pardon does note on your record that you have been forgiven for your crime, making it less likely that potential employers, landlords or other official agencies and licensing boards will hold it against you.
In the United States, a government executive must grant a pardon. In Pennsylvania, a pardon is an act of forgiveness carried out by the governor that is necessary, if no other exceptions exist, to get prior criminal charges expunged from a person's criminal record. The process of obtaining a pardon has a reputation for being long and tedious – and it definitely lives up to those claims. In order to navigate these processes without any setbacks or mishaps, your best option is to seek the guidance of an attorney. Below is an overview of the pardoning process in the state of Pennsylvania.
The first step of the pardoning process is obtaining and filling out an application. When the Board of Pardons (BOP) office receives an application that is complete and accurate, it is considered officially filed. If the application is incomplete, it will not be considered filed until you have filled all requirements. A legal professional typically fulfills this duty for you by requesting an application from the BOP on your behalf. Once this application is received, your attorney will work with you to ensure the application is thoroughly and correctly filled out. Upon its completion, it will be submitted to the BOP for review.
After your application has been filed, it is wise to start planning ahead and gathering necessary documents and information prior to your meeting with investigating staff. These items include:
- Residential information, such as a rental agreement or mortgage statement
- Marital status and family composition information, including marriage or divorce decrees and birth or death certificates
- Employment information, such as pay stubs, W2s, and unemployment or VA benefits
- Financial resources, including investments, life insurance policies, checking and savings account statements, and property values
- Liabilities and debts, including loans, mortgage statements, and credit cards
- Memberships in organizations such as volunteer organizations, church groups, etc.
- Religious affiliations (if applicable)
- Addresses and dates of residences for the last decade
- Record of jobs held for the last decade, including pay stubs and W2s
- Educational history, including diplomas, certificates, degrees, transcripts, etc.
- Military service, including dates of entry and discharge and rank
- Names and contact information for at least three to five references who can confirm your reputation and standing in the community
After the board receives your application, the Pennsylvania Board of Probation will conduct an investigation. Throughout the duration of this investigation, investigators will reassess the facts surrounding the crimes you committed and evaluate the circumstances of your case. All materials you submitted go to the five-member BOP for review, including your application and supporting documents, as well as opinions from the judge and district attorney from the court that convicted you of your crimes.
The review determines if you get a public hearing regarding your pardon application, and the process can sometimes take as long as a year or more. While hiring an attorney will not speed the process up, an experienced professional will help you ensure your documents are submitted to the BOP correctly the first time, which can save you time and money on the road to the full restoration of your rights.
As a part of the investigation process, you will be interviewed at your residence by a state parole agent to determine if you have become a contributing member of society since you committed the crime you wish to pardon. Other people in your household, such as your family or a roommate, will be asked about your conduct and respectability. Both you and these members of your family or your household should be prepared to answer these questions, providing examples and being completely cooperative with the agent.
Questions during the interview and investigation process will likely focus on your criminal history, how you feel you've changed, why you feel you deserve a pardon, and what you'll do after you receive a pardon. Some examples of questions you may hear during an interview or investigation include:
- Why did you commit the crime? What circumstances led you to commit the crime?
- What type of punishment did you receive for your crime?
- Have you committed any other crimes? If so, what led to these crimes?
- Did anyone influence your decision to commit the crimes?
- Are you still associated with the other people involved in your crimes?
- Have you attempted to further your education since your conviction?
- Have you obtained and kept a job since your conviction?
- Have you volunteered or been involved in the community since your conviction?
- Who can testify to your character and the changes you've made to better your life since your conviction?
- Are you remorseful for your crimes?
- Why do you want a pardon? How will it improve your life?
- If you receive a pardon, what will your next steps be?
- If you don't receive a pardon, will you apply again?
Once the investigation has concluded, your investigation report will be sent to the BOP for what is known as a “merit review” of the findings. The BOP is comprised of five members: the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, a victim representative, a psychologist, and a corrections expert. Typically, these individuals examine the specific circumstances of your case, such as the amount of time that has passed since you committed the crime, your presumed need for clemency, and evidence of positive changes made in your life. At least two of the five board members must approve of your application in order to advance to the next step, which is scheduling and attending a hearing.
If a BOP hearing is granted, the following parties will be notified:
- Applicants and their representatives
- Boards of probation and parole
- District attorney from the county where you were convicted
- President judge of the county where you were convicted
- Department of Corrections (if an applicant is incarcerated)
- Victims or survivors
- Newspaper of record in the county where you were convicted, as publication of your pardon hearing is a requirement
If you reach this stage, you will be granted the opportunity to speak for yourself to the BOP. You may bring a legal representative along as well to speak on your behalf. During this hearing, you may be asked questions to clarify any information the board may need to decide whether or not to recommend your application to the governor. If your application is placed in the hands of the governor for review, they will decide whether or not you will receive a pardon.
If the governor chooses to reject your application, you will not be able to appeal this decision, but you are allowed to reapply. However, you must wait one year after a denial and two years from subsequent denials to do so. On the other hand, if the governor decides to grant you a pardon, all legal and criminal consequences associated with your crimes will be eradicated.
In determining whether to accept your pardon application, the board may consider several factors, including:
- The nature of your crimes, such as whether it was a violent or non-violent offense
- Why the crimes occurred and the circumstances surrounding the crimes
- Whether you've accepted responsibility for your actions
- The amount of time that has passed since you last committed a crime
- The hardships created by your criminal record, such as barriers to education, employment, etc.
- How you have reformed your life and contributed to society since you committed your crime
Once the governor receives the BOP recommendations, they have sole discretion over whether or not your pardon request is granted – though they have no limit on the amount of time they take to make their decision, meaning the process can drag on indefinitely. If your pardon is granted, you will receive an official signed document from the governor's office, which can be used to petition the court to have your record expunged.
Benefits of a Pardon
A pardon doesn't suggest you are innocent of your crime, nor does it expunge or erase your record. However, a pardon is still an important step toward restoring certain rights you may have lost as a result of your criminal conviction. These rights may include:
- The right to vote
- The right to run for and hold public office
- The right to serve on a jury
- The right to possess firearms
- The right to get a passport
Additionally, a pardon may signal that someone who has committed a crime has worked to reform their lives and become a productive and law-abiding member of society. A pardon can help eliminate the stigma associated with a criminal background and allow someone convicted of a crime to pursue better opportunities in employment and housing. Employers are often hesitant to hire convicted felons, and landlords may not wish to enter into a rental contract with someone who has a criminal background. In the case of a deportable offense, a pardon can also prevent someone from being deported.
Pardoning Versus Expungement
In some cases, getting an official pardon may help you petition the court to have your record expunged. Expungement involves sealing your arrest and conviction records, so it does not need to be disclosed when applying for jobs, housing, and education, or other opportunities where a criminal background may be a factor. Before petitioning the court for an expungement, it is important to know the following things:
- Is your offense eligible for expungement? Some felonies – particularly those involving violence, sex crimes, or crimes against children – may not be eligible for this process.
- Are there any limits on when you can apply for expungement? In some cases, it may be an option only after certain sentences, terms of probation, or other obligations have been served and fulfilled.
- How will expungement benefit your future? In some circumstances, police departments and licensing boards may still be able to uncover criminal records that have been expunged.
The process for expungement is not simple. If you are eligible for expungement, there are several steps that you must follow in order to have a crime expunged from your criminal record, including requesting a background check from the Pennsylvania State Police. An attorney can assist you with this process so that it occurs within the necessary time frame. The next step is to file a petition for expungement in the specific county where the crime occurred. This means that if there are multiple eligible charges or crimes, each one needs its own completed petition. There are two types of petitions, and each petition requires other necessary documentation. An experienced attorney will be able to help you navigate the process so that everything is filed in a timely fashion.
Before petitioning the court for a pardon or expungement, contact an experienced attorney to determine your eligibility and ensure your journey toward the restoration of your rights and the clearing of your criminal record is handled smoothly and correctly. Hiring an attorney is not required for expungement, but you will have the best chance at achieving this goal and getting your records sealed with the help of an experienced professional on your side.
Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorney
If you were charged with a crime and are now looking to have it pardoned or expunged from your record, it's best to consider hiring an attorney with extensive experience. After all, we all make mistakes, so why should your worst moments define the rest of your life? Whether you've served your time or you feel your criminal conviction was unjust, the Lento Law Firm is here to help. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have worked with thousands of clients over many years to ensure the best possible outcome in each case. Mr. Lento brings expertise, dedication, and passion to all of his client cases.
If you are contemplating applying for a pardon, you should consult with an attorney who is well versed in the complexities of the pardoning process. Not only does attorney Joseph D. Lento have unparalleled experience fighting for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties, as well as New Jersey, he is widely regarded as preeminent in seeking record relief on behalf of clients. He does not settle for the easiest outcome and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. Skilled attorney Joseph D. Lento and his legal team at the Lento Law Firm are here to help you maximize your chances of obtaining a pardon and getting your life back on the road to happiness and success. Contact him today at 888-535-3686 for a consultation.