Everyone makes mistakes. But sometimes, one mistake can affect the rest of your life. If you've made a mistake and have a conviction for a serious crime, that mistake can affect your future ability to get a job, buy a home, get an education, rent an apartment, and more, even after serving your sentence and paying your fines. Fortunately, Pennsylvania does allow a few routes to clear your name, including applying to receive a pardon from the governor. The pardon process can be long and complicated, but worth the result, and your best chance to succeed in the pardon process is with experienced York County legal guidance helping you every step of the way.
What Is a Pardon?
We've all heard about pardons, but what does it actually do? A pardon restores a convicted person's rights as if they'd never committed a crime. It's an act of clemency or forgiveness that only the Governor of Pennsylvania can grant. In our commonwealth, the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons (BOP) handles and reviews pardon applications, making recommendations to the governor. However, the governor has the final say in determining who gets a pardon. If the governor grants a pardon, it fully restores your rights.
Our state constitution gives the power to grant pardons solely to the executive branch and the governor. See Penn. Const. Art. IV, §9(a) (1997). Once granted, a pardon will remove any legal restrictions from your rights that resulted from a criminal conviction, restoring:
- Your right to sit on a jury
- Your right to own and purchase firearms
- Your ability to hold public office
- Your ability to serve in the military
- Your ability to travel overseas
However, your best chance of successfully navigating the pardon process is in York County is with an experienced Pennsylvania pardon attorney.
The Pardon Process
The pardon process can be long, but the steps are the same for every person, involving:
- An application
- A full hearing before the BOP
- Notice to the public
- The final recommendation of the BOP
- The governor's decision
Applying for a Pardon
The first step in the pardon process is the application. You can find the application online on the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons website. However, the application requires retrieving and submitting a wide range of documents, so you and your attorney will need to plan out the process of collecting everything you need. If you have convictions in York County, you and your attorney will need to retrieve some of these documents from court offices and agencies in York County.
The BOP won't consider your application complete without all of the necessary items, including:
- Court documents: You'll need to obtain the official court documents for your case, including the criminal complaint, affidavit of probable cause, criminal information or indictment, final plea or verdict, sentencing order, and proof of payment of all financial obligations, including court fees and fines.
- The type of clemency or forgiveness that you're seeking
- All required application information, including any supplements.
- The convictions you're requesting clemency for. This information must include the dates of the incidents, the offense tracking number, and any detailed facts of the incident, including your involvement.
- Your criminal and driver history: You must include details of your complete criminal history, including any juvenile charges, adjudications of delinquency, and consent decrees; any adult charges not included in your clemency request; and traffic citations from in and outside Pennsylvania.
- A personal statement: This optional statement can include details of how you've changed your life since your arrest, why you seek a pardon, why you think you are a good candidate, and any additional information that supports your request. Your attorney can help you write a compelling and effective statement.
- Your signature
You may also include copies of any certificates or diplomas, recommendation letters, and additional supporting documents. However, you don't need to include your criminal history information for any charges expunged by the state. You and your attorney will keep a complete copy of everything submitted to the Board of Pardons.
Your attorney will send your pardon application and all supporting documents to:
Pennsylvania Board of Pardons
333 Market Street, 15th Floor
Harrisburg, PA 17126
If you miss any required information in your application packet, the BOP will identify the missing information and won't consider your application “filed” until you provide all the required missing information.
The Pardon Investigation
After filing your application, the Board of Pardons will notify the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole and assign an agent to your case. Your agent will review your application packet and the details of your criminal case and ask for a meeting with you.
The agent assigned to you will typically interview you at home, attempting to determine whether you're a contributing member of your community. They'll interview your family members and your household, asking about your conduct. Your agent may also ask for additional documentation after your interview or to fill in any questions raised by your application or questions about your case. If you don't provide all the requested information, the agent will withdraw your application.
The Pardon Merit Review
Before you have a hearing with the BOP, they will vote on whether your application should receive a hearing. Two out of five must vote in favor of a hearing. However, if you're currently in prison, three out of five must vote in favor of a hearing. If the BOP grants you a hearing, and your conviction happened in York County, they will notify:
- You and your representative or lawyer
- The Board of Probation and Parole
- The District Attorney in York County, if that's where you were convicted
- The President Judge of York County
- The victims and any survivors
- The York Daily Record
- The Department of Corrections if you're currently incarcerated
The Pardon Hearing
At the hearing, you'll have 15 minutes to present your case before the BOP and answer their questions. This is your opportunity to explain the circumstances of your conviction, how you've changed, what you contribute to the community, and introduce character witnesses. Typically, the hearing will include:
- Your presentation
- Any witnesses speaking in support of your pardon
- Any witnesses speaking against your pardon
To forward your application to the governor recommending a pardon, three of the five members must vote in favor of clemency. You aren't required to have an attorney to apply for a pardon and appear before the BOP in a hearing. However, this is your chance to present your best possible case for clemency. An experienced Pennsylvania pardon attorney can help.
The Pardon Decision
The five members of the BOP will decide whether to recommend your pardon to the governor. The BOP includes Pennsylvania's Lieutenant Governor, the Pennsylvania Attorney General, a corrections expert, a psychiatrist, and a victims' rights advocate. Pennsylvania's governor appoints the last three members of the BOP. After hearing your presentation and any witness testimony, the board votes to decide your application, considering:
- Whether your crime was violent
- The circumstances that led to your crime
- Whether you've taken responsibility for the crime
- How long it's been since your conviction
- Whether your criminal history created occupational or educational obstacles for you
- How you have contributed to society since your conviction
If at least three of the five board members vote in favor of your pardon application, the BOP will send a recommendation for a pardon to the governor. Pennsylvania's governor will make the final pardon determination.
Will A Pardon Clear My Record?
A pardon in Pennsylvania will allow the state to seal your criminal record from public view automatically. However, a pardon does not automatically expunge or clear your conviction from your record. It will still be visible in the FBI database and all law enforcement databases. After a pardon, you can petition to expunge your criminal record with an order from the court where you were originally convicted.
To expunge your record in Pennsylvania, you should take the following steps in part (the following steps are best taken with the assistance of an experienced attorney and will vary slightly with an attorney's help):
- Submit an application for your arrest record to the central repository, along with a check or money order for the fee made out to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. If an "Access and Review" background check is requested as opposed to an "ePatch" background check, you'll need to include a copy of your photo ID and a legal affidavit or letter of representation.
- After receiving a copy of your full arrest record from the central repository, you may contact the York County Clerk's Office for the expungement application procedure.
- After the court signs an order for expungement, the York County Clerk will send it to the Pennsylvania State Police and other applicable law enforcement, government, and court agencies. Once the PSP and receives the order, they will expunge your record. The same will take place with respect to the other agencies who will be served with the expungement order.
Hire an Experienced York County Pardon Attorney
Navigating the clemency process, application, and Board of Pardons hearing can be difficult to handle on your own. This is your best chance to clear your record, and you need an experienced pardon attorney by your side. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his expert team at the Lento Law Firm have been helping Pennsylvanians with pardon applications and expungements for years. Find out if they can help you clear your record too. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888.535.3686 to schedule a consultation or contact them online today.