Iowa Pardon Information

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Authority

The Iowa Constitution gives the Governor the power to “grant reprieves, commutations and pardons, after conviction for all offense except treason and cases of impeachment, subject to such regulations as may be provided by law.”[1] The Governor also has the power to “remit fines and forfeitures,” but these, too, are subject to “regulations as may be provided by law.”[1]

The Legislature has created a body called the Board of Parole to make recommendations to the Governor on all pardon applications. The Board is made up of five members who are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate.[2] Board members each serve a four-year term.

Because the focus of this site is on pardons, we will not discuss reprieves, commutations, remission of fines and forfeitures, parole, or other types of clemency that may be available in Iowa here. We will also not discuss judicial alternatives such as record expungement, record sealing, setting aside or dismissal of convictions. If you believe any of these alternative options may be more appropriate for you, you should consult an attorney.


Eligibility

You are technically eligible to apply for a pardon at any time after you have been convicted.[3] However, the Governor generally expects at least ten years to have passed since you were discharged from your sentence before you can apply. This is an informal rule that can change from one Governor to the next. The rule of thumb is if you are unsure whether you are eligible to apply for a pardon, you should go ahead and apply; there is no harm in doing so.

You must have paid all fines, court costs, and/or restitution which you still owe before your application will even be considered. You must provide proof of payment. Proof of payment can usually be obtained from the clerk of the court in the county where you were convicted.

The Governor can only pardon you for an Iowa conviction.[4] If you want a pardon for a federal conviction, you must do that through the United States Department of Justice, Office of the Pardon Attorney (see our page on this site on federal pardons). If you want to pardon for an out-of-state conviction, you should find the appropriate page on this site dealing with pardons in that particular state.

However, if you have a federal or out-of-state conviction, the Governor can restore your right to vote and to hold public office in Iowa without actually granting you a pardon.[4] It is also possible to have your gun rights restored without actually getting a pardon. Unlike applying for a pardon, there is no waiting period before you can apply to restore your citizenship rights; you can apply at any time after you have been convicted.[5] However, to restore your gun rights, at least five years must have passed since you were discharged from your sentence.

If you are interested in restoring your citizenship rights (voting, holding public office, possessing a gun, etc.) without getting a pardon, you should contact the Governor’s office for more information, because this requires a separate application process. We will not outline that procedure here. The Governor’s office’s contact info is listed in the next section.

Most people who apply for restoration of rights are granted.[5] However, pardons are not granted as frequently.[5] Just to give you an idea, between 1998 and 2003, the Governor’s office received 238 pardon applications, but the Governor only granted 52 of those (about 22%).[5] During the same five-year period, 3067 people applied for restoration of rights, and 2245 of those were granted (about 79%).[5] In 2012, 28 applications were received. 8 pardons were granted and 20 applications were denied.[6]

Your chance of getting a pardon largely depends on your individual circumstances. Naturally, the older and less serious your conviction(s) are, and the more compelling your life story is, the higher your chance of getting a pardon. Your chance of getting a pardon can also depend on who is serving as Governor at the time your application is reviewed. Some Governors are more lenient than others in handing out pardons.

The Application Process

There are no fees to apply for a pardon in Iowa. There are two ways to apply for a pardon. You can either apply directly to the Governor, or to the Board of Parole who will make a recommendation to the Governor.[3]In either case, you will be required to show that you have become and will continue to be a law-abiding citizen.[7]

I. Direct Application to Governor

If you choose to apply directly to the Governor, there is a clemency application form that you can find on the Governor’s website at http://www.governor.iowa.gov/. The form will be quite simple and self-explanatory, as it was created for the non-lawyer to use. If you cannot access the Governor’s website or the form itself, you can contact the Governor’s office at 515-281-5211 to have one sent or emailed to you. You can also write to:

Office of the Governor and Lt. Governor
State Capitol
Des Moines, IA 50319

You will be required to submit along with your application your current Iowa criminal record as well as your personal credit report. You can obtain your criminal history record by contacting the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at 515-725-6066, by logging onto www.dps.state.ia.us/DCI/Records_Ident/index.shtml, or by writing to:

215 East 7th Street
Des Moines, IA 50319

You can obtain your personal credit report by contacting the Annual Credit Report Request Service at 1-877-322-8228, at www.annualcreditreport.com, or writing to:

P.O. Box 1058281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281

You will have the option of submitting letters of recommendation to support your application. The letters can come from the following individuals:

  1. The prosecuting attorney who was involved in your case
  2. The sentencing judge who was involved in your case
  3. The county sheriff who was involved in your case, or the sheriff in the county where you reside
  4. A minister
  5. A current or former employer
  6. Any other reputable person in the community who can attest to your moral character

We highly recommend that you submit letters of recommendation. These letters must be submitted at the same time you submit your application form. The writers of the letters must state in the letters that they are aware you are seeking a pardon.

Additionally, although not required, we highly suggest that you submit, on a separate sheet of paper, a detailed and genuine personal statement explaining why you need a pardon. Simply saying you want a clean criminal record again is not enough. Tell the Governor how your conviction has negatively affected you and/or your family. For example, explain how you have been denied housing or employment opportunities because of your conviction, and how this has prevented you from providing your family and you an adequate standard of living.

If you are facing deportation because of a conviction, explain how being separated from your family will negatively affect you as well as them. If you are pursuing a career in a field that requires you to obtain a pardon, submit documents, letters, or other proof from a prospective employer, licensing agency, or attorney verifying this necessity. If you need to regain your gun rights, explain why you need this—for example, you are pursuing a career that requires the use of firearms, or you want to take part in your family hunting traditions, or you simply want to feel more secure and able to defend yourself and/or your family after a recent traumatic event.

Also indicate in your personal statement all the positive things that have occurred in your life—for example, educational achievements, new or stable employment, marriage and children, community involvement, charitable services or donations, law-abiding behavior, etc. Submit copies of your college transcript, high school diploma or GED, military certificates, marriage certificate, honors and awards, and other proof of your rehabilitation and good character. Explain what your future plans are and how a pardon would help or hinder those plans.

In writing your personal statement, keep in mind that the Governor is not retrying you for the offense. Although you may want to explain the facts of the crime from your perspective, avoid trying to make excessive excuses for your crime and arguing away your guilt. Whatever you feel about the crime, you had already been found guilty. The Governor is probably more interested in seeing your remorse for the crime, and your understanding of its effects on the victim and society, than anything else.

Make a copy of everything you send for your records. You must submit your completed application to the following address:

James C. Larew, General Counsel
Governor’s Office
State Capitol Building
Des Moines, IA 50319

After the Governor’s office receives your completed application, it will be forwarded to the Department of Public Safety, Division of Criminal Investigation, for a full review of your entire criminal, traffic, and credit history.

You may be contacted to verify information in your application. Those you list in your application may also be contacted. The Governor’s office will also inquire into your income tax filings. You should be upfront and cooperative with the Governor and his agents at all times.

It is unlikely that the Governor will call you in for a personal interview. However, if this happens, you should definitely take advantage of the opportunity. Such an interview would be an excellent opportunity for you to put a human face onto your application; it lets the Governor see the kind of person you are in person. You must act and look your best at any such interview—in the same way you would if you were going to court for a trial.

Even though you apply directly to the Governor, the Governor may choose to divert your application over to the Board of Parole to examine it and then make a recommendation to the Governor. In any event, the Governor will have the final say on whether or not you receive a pardon.

In making a decision, the Governor will scrutinize the evidence admitted in your case, and may take additional testimony from anyone who might have relevant information about the case.[7] The Governor may also ask the judge and/or prosecutor who was involved in your case for their recommendations or any relevant facts that they may have.[8]

Once the Governor makes his final decision, you will be notified in writing. The Governor must state in writing his reasons for granting or denying your application.[8] If the Governor denies your application, you can re-apply at any time.[9] Of course, if you had just been denied, it probably will not help to re-apply one month later, unless something extraordinary happened since your application was denied that you think would boost your changes of receiving a pardon the second time around.

The whole pardon process, from beginning to end, can take up to two years. However, if you are simply trying to restore your citizenship rights (including your rights to vote, hold public office, and own a gun) without actually getting a pardon, the process may be considerably faster. See Part B for more information about this alternative to a pardon.

II. Application to Board of Parole

If you choose to apply to the Board of Parole rather than through the Governor’s office directly, you must use an application form provided by the Board. You can obtain the application form from the Board by calling 515-725-5757 or by writing to:

Iowa Board of Parole
510 East 12th Street, Suite 3
Des Moines, IA 50319

Here, the Board will examine your application and conduct an investigation in much the same way the Governor’s office would (see above). You should submit the personal statement (addressed to the Governor) as well as the letters of recommendation mentioned in the previous section. If the Board’s application instructs you to submit a criminal and/or credit report, refer to the previous section to find out how to do this.

As with the Governor, you should be upfront and cooperative with the Board and its agents at all times during the application process. After the Board has completed its investigation, it will send a recommendation over to the Governor, who, again, has the final say on your application.

It is unlikely that you will be called in by the Board for a hearing.[8] However, in the event you are, you should dress and behave in the same formal manner you would if you were going to court for a trial. If allowed, bring friends, family members, co-workers, and others in your community to the hearing to show their support. The hearing would be an excellent opportunity for the Board to see you in person as well as the amount of support you have in your community.

Once the Governor receives the Board’s recommendation, he has up to 90 days to make a decision.[10] If your conviction was for a violent offense, the Governor may notify the victim(s) of your offense about your application, who will have an opportunity to submit their written opinion on your application.[11]

You will be notified of the Governor’s final decision in writing. The Governor must state in writing his reasons for granting or denying your application.[11] If the Governor denies your application, you can re-apply at any time.[12] Of course, if you had just been denied, it probably will not help to re-apply one month later, unless something extraordinary happened since your application was denied that you think would boost your changes of receiving a pardon the second time around.

The whole pardon process, from beginning to end, can take up to two years to complete. However, if you are simply trying to restore your citizenship rights (including your rights to vote, hold public office, and own a gun) without getting a pardon, the process may be considerably faster. See Part B for more information about this alternative to a pardon.


The Effects

A full pardon (i.e., a pardon with no conditions attached) from the Governor will restore all of your citizenship rights (your rights to vote, to run for public office, to own a gun, etc.) and relieve you of any further punishment from the conviction.[13] However, a pardon will not erase your conviction. Your conviction will continue to be part of your criminal record. As in many other states, a pardon in Iowa “forgives but does not forget.”

If you are interested in possibly expunging your arrest and/or conviction records, there may be a separate judicial procedure for doing this. This typically requires submitting a formal motion or petition to the court where you were charged or convicted; the procedure is usually more formal and adversarial than the procedure for applying for a pardon. You should therefore retain an attorney to help you with judicial expungements.

As indicated above, your gun rights may be restored if at least five years have passed since you were discharged from your sentence. In general, a pardon will restore your gun rights, even if five years have not passed.[14] However, if you have been convicted of a forcible felony, a felony involving a firearm, or a “vice” felony (prostitution, pimping, gaming and betting, etc.), you will not have your gun rights restored.[15]Also, if you committed a felony or an aggravated misdemeanor offense involving a firearm when you were a minor (seventeen or under), your gun rights will not be restored.[15]

Under federal law, if you have received a pardon from any state, the pardoned conviction cannot be used by federal authorities to prosecute you for “unlawful possession of a firearm” unless the pardon specifically says you cannot possess a gun.[16]

In most cases, federal immigration authorities cannot rely solely on a conviction that has been subject to a pardon for the purpose of deporting you from the country. If immigration is not an issue for you, this benefit is obviously irrelevant.

If you have been convicted of a felony, your voting rights in Iowa will be taken away. [17] However, as indicated above, a Governor’s pardon will restore many of your most basic citizenship rights, such as your rights to vote and to hold public office. In fact, ever since 2005, the Governor’s office has automatically restored these basic citizenship rights to all offenders who have completed their sentence (including any probation, parole, or supervised release).[18] Therefore, if you are only interested in voting or seeking public office, a pardon might not be necessary.

A pardon would also release you of other legal disabilities you may have because of the conviction, such as those pertaining to licensing and public employment.[8] If you are still an inmate in prison, a pardon would effectively release you from prison.

Finally, keep in mind that the effects of a pardon can vary from one state to the next. For example, if you receive a pardon in Iowa and then move to another state, that other state might take away your gun rights or require you to register as a sex offender again even if the pardon lifted away these restrictions while you were living in Iowa. Thus, you should always check with the laws of the state you move to rather than just assume that the benefits of the pardon moves with you across state lines. Fortunately, states tend and honor each other’s pardons.

External Links

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Iowa Const. art. IV, § 16.
  2. Iowa Admin. Code § 205-1.1(1)-(6).
  3. 3.0 3.1 Iowa Code § 914.2.
  4. 4.0 4.1 The Sentencing Project, Iowa, Margaret Colgate Love, http://www.sentencingproject.org/tmp/File/Iowa.pdf; see also State ex rel. Dean v. Haubrich, 248 Iowa 978 (Ia. 1957)(‚"While the Governor of Iowa may not pardon an Iowa resident convicted of a felony in the Federal Court, he may restore to the convicted person rights of citizenship in this State lost by the conviction, such as the right to vote and hold office and where the Governor issued to him a ‚ÄòRestoration of Citizenship‚Äô as provided in section 248.12 . . . .‚").
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 The Sentencing Project, Iowa, Margaret Colgate Love, http://www.sentencingproject.org/tmp/File/Iowa.pdf; see also Iowa Code § 914.2.
  6. http://www.bop.state.ia.us/2012Report.pdf
  7. 7.0 7.1 Iowa Code § 914.3.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 The Sentencing Project, Iowa, Margaret Colgate Love, http://www.sentencingproject.org/tmp/File/Iowa.pdf
  9. >The Sentencing Project, Iowa, Margaret Colgate Love, http://www.sentencingproject.org/tmp/File/Iowa.pdf; see also Iowa Code § 914.4.
  10. Iowa Code § 914.4.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Iowa Code § 915.19.
  12. Iowa Code § 915.19.; see also Iowa Code § 914.4.
  13. See Slater v. Olson, 230 Iowa 1005, 1009, 299 N.W. 879, 880 (1941)(‚"We hold that . . . a full pardon granted after conviction contemplates . . . a remission of guilt ‚Äòboth before and after conviction,‚Äô forgives the offender and relieves him from the results of the offense, relieves not only from the punishment which the law inflicts for the crime but also exempts him from additional penalties and legal consequences in the form of disqualifications or disabilities based on his conviction.‚")(citation omitted).
  14. Iowa Code § 724.27.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Iowa Code § 914.7.
  16. 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(20) & (33).
  17. Iowa Code § 48A.6.
  18. Executive Order 42, Governor Vilsack, http://www.governor.iowa.gov/administration/citizenship-faq.php.