Pennsylvania Pardon Information
The Constitution of Pennsylvania gives the Governor the power to grant pardons, reprieves, commutations, remission of fines and forfeitures. However, the Governor cannot act unilaterally. In order to grant a pardon, he must get a majority recommendation from the Board of Pardons; if the case involves death or life imprisonment, he must get a unanimous recommendation. The Governor can place any conditions, limitations, or restrictions on a pardon as he deems proper.
The Board of Pardons has five members: the Lieutenant Governor, the Attorney General, and three other members who are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. They each serve a six-year term. Before any pardon can be granted, there must be a full public hearing before the Board.
Because the focus of this site is on pardons, we will not discuss reprieves, commutations, remission of fines and forfeitures, amnesty, parole, or other types of clemency that may be available in Pennsylvania here. We will also not discuss judicial alternatives such as record expungement, record sealing, setting aside or dismissal of convictions. You should talk to an attorney if you think any of these alternative options may be more appropriate for you.
|See http://www.recordgone.com/Pennsylvania/ for more information and options for record sealing and expungement|
The laws of Pennsylvania (including the Constitution, the state code, rules and regulations) do not have any minimum eligibility requirements to apply for executive clemency/pardon. You can apply for a pardon even if you are still in prison. However, according to the Community Legal Services of Pennsylvania, the most common types of crimes that receive pardons are shoplifting and disorderly conduct; for more serious crimes, typically several decades must have passed since the crime was committed. The longer you stay out of trouble, the higher your changes of getting a pardon.
The Board of Pardons considers every application on a case-by-case basis. There are no set criteria that the Board must follow. Individual Board members can consider any factor that he or she deems proper. The factors that the Board has considered in the past include:
- How much time has passed since you committed the crime;
- The seriousness of your crime;
- The number of crimes you have committed in the past;
- Whether you have complied with all court requirements (such as probation, parole, court-imposed fines and costs);
- Whether you have made any positive changes in your life since you committed the crime;
- Your reason for seeking clemency/pardon. (You should have a specific compelling need in mind—for example, to obtain a particular job or pursue a particular career path, or to avoid deportation; a vague reason such as “to put this all behind me” is not enough.);
- The impact your crime had on the victim.
This is not an exhaustive list. As indicated above, the Board of Pardons considers every application on a case-by-case basis. Individual Board members can place more importance on a particular factor than others.
The Board of Pardons/Governor can only consider a pardon application on a Pennsylvania State conviction. 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.
Finally, keep in mind that pardons are granted very sparingly in Pennsylvania. For example, in 2006, the Board received 360 applications but the Governor ultimately granted only 27. In 2005, the Board received 617 applications but the Governor ended up granting only 52. In 2012, 381 applications were received. 85 pardons were granted and 40 applications were denied.
You chance of getting a pardon largely depends on your individual circumstances. Naturally, the older and less serious your conviction, and the more compelling your life story, the higher your chance of getting a pardon. Your chance can also depend on who is serving as Governor at the time your application is reviewed; some Governors are simply more lenient than others in handing out pardons.
The Application Process
In order to apply for a pardon, you must send the Board of Pardons an $8.00 money order, cashier’s check, law firm check, or institution check, payable to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The Board will not accept a personal check. You must also send a self-addressed, business-size envelope with a .59 stamp.
Once the Board receives the check and envelope, it will then mail you a full clemency application packet with instructions. Don’t try to obtain an application from someone other than the Board; if your application is not an original issued by the Board, it will be rejected. The address to mail the check and envelope to is:
Board of Pardons
333 Market Street
Harrisburg, PA 17126-0333
If you want a preview of what the pardon application will/may look like, you can view it on the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation’s website at http://www.cjpf.org/clemency/Pennsylvania.html. Again, this should only be used as a preview. If you don’t pay the $8.00 and use an original form issued by the Board, your application will be rejected.
When you receive your application package from the Board, be sure to read the instructions carefully. Pennsylvania has very detailed rules on how to apply for a pardon. There are separate instructions for those who are still in prison and those who are not. In either case, you will be asked to file multiple copies of your application and supporting documents/letters, as well as a filing fee (which will be in addition to the $8.00 application fee).
Among the documents you will need to submit is your Pennsylvania State Police Criminal Record. You can obtain this from the Pennsylvania State Police, Central Repository, by calling (717) 783-9973. You can also make an online request at http://epatch.state.pa.us/Home.jsp.
Although not necessarily 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.
In your personal statement, do not simply say that you want a clean criminal record again. Tell the Board/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. Submit any proof you may have (such as denial letters) to support your claims.
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 you.
In writing your personal statement, keep in mind that the Board/Governor will not be retrying you for the offense. Avoid trying to make excessive excuses for your crime and arguing away your guilt. However you feel about the crime, you have already been found guilty. The Board/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.
Also, although not necessarily required, we suggest that you submit a few letters of recommendation from credible people (such as your boss) who know you well and can say good things about you. These letters should indicate to what extent the writer knows you and why he or she thinks you should be granted a pardon. The letters should also indicate the writer’s contact information for verification purposes. If possible, you should choose individuals who are not related to you, in order to avoid the appearance of bias.
Make sure you keep a copy of everything you send for your records. Send your application, along with all supporting documents and letters of recommendation, to the Board according to its instructions.
Once the Board receives your completed application, it will have agents from the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole conduct an investigation into your case. They will investigate the facts surrounding the crime which you are seeking a pardon for, as well as your present character. They will also conduct a personal interview on you, which may take place in your own home. You should be upfront and cooperative with the Board and its agents at all times.
If you are serving a sentence of death, life imprisonment, or a sentence for murder, voluntary manslaughter, attempt to commit murder or attempt to commit voluntary manslaughter, each Board member will personally interview you, either as a group or individually. The interview will be private; however, your attorney (if you have one) can be there with you.
A copy of your application will be sent to the court where you were convicted, the District Attorney in the county where you were convicted, and (if you are still confined) the correctional institution where you are confined. The Board will solicit their opinions/recommendations on your application. Keep in mind that your application will be a public record and will therefore be subject to public inspection.
After investigation is complete, the Board will vote on whether to hold a public hearing in your case. If a hearing is denied, your application is basically denied. If a hearing is granted, you are required to attend or else your application will be rejected. If you are confined, you obviously cannot be at the hearing; however, you can designate another person to appear on your behalf.
The Board will publish a notice of the hearing in a major newspaper in the county where you committed the crime. The purpose of the notice is to alert the public that you have applied for a pardon and that the Board is seriously considering it. The notice will include your name, conviction, date and location of the hearing. The victim will have an opportunity to be there and have their view considered. An attorney for the State will also be encouraged to be there to present the State’s view.
The hearing will be recorded to preserve a record of what went on. However, the hearing is not formal like a hearing in court. No one at the hearing will be sworn in or cross examined. This does not mean that you shouldn’t look and act your best; you should still dress in the same way you would if you were going to court.
Also, if possible have friends, family members, a neighbor, church members, co-workers, and others in your community attend the hearing to show their support for you. The hearing is an excellent opportunity to put a human face onto your application; it lets the Board not only see you in person but also see the amount of support you have in your community.
In non-capital cases, you will be allowed a total of fifteen minutes presentation to support your application. Those who oppose your application will also be allowed a total of fifteen minutes for their presentation. For capital cases, the time allowed for both sides is thirty minutes. The Board may request or subpoena any person to appear as a witness at the hearing.
At least three members of the Board must make a written recommendation for you for a pardon (after the public hearing) in order for your application to be sent to the Governor for final approval. If your sentence was death or life imprisonment, the Board must unanimously recommend you for a pardon. The Governor has the final say on whether or not you receive a pardon.
You will be notified of the Board’s decision within 14 days after the hearing. If the Board does not recommend you for a pardon, you can request the Board to reconsider your application; however, you will be expected to show a change of circumstances since the application was first filed, or some other compelling reason (simply being unhappy with the result is not enough). You will also be notified of the Governor’s final decision.
The whole process from beginning to end can take up to 2 years or even longer. If you have any questions regarding how to fill out the application or the application process in general, you can call the Board at 717-787-2596.
The primary effects of a pardon in Pennsylvania are to forgive you of the particular crime, to relieve you of any further punishment for that crime, and to restore any rights you lost as a result of the crime. However, a pardon will not automatically seal, erase, or expunge your conviction from your criminal record. Your conviction will still be viewable by the general public until you get an expungement through a court.
Fortunately, you are eligible for a judicial expungement once you receive a pardon. (There are a few limited situations where you can qualify for a judicial expungement of a conviction even if you have not received a pardon for that conviction.) You should talk to a record expungement attorney if you are interested in doing this.
Once you receive a pardon for a conviction, a State board, commission, or department cannot consider that particular conviction in deciding whether to issue you a license, certificate, registration, or permission to enter into a trade, occupation, or profession (teaching, nursing, etc.).
There is no law in Pennsylvania that prohibits private employers from considering your conviction, even if it has been pardoned. However, private employers can only consider your conviction to the extent that the conviction relates to your suitability for employment for that particular position. On the other hand, if you obtain a judicial expungement for that conviction, not only will it prevent private employers and the general public from accessing it, you will also be able to legally deny that you were ever convicted of that crime. Again, talk to an attorney if you are interested in obtaining a judicial expungement.
|See http://www.recordgone.com/Pennsylvania/ for more information and options for record sealing and expungement|
A pardon will also restore any citizenship rights which you have lost and which have not been restored to you. These include your rights to vote, to serve on a jury, and to hold public office. A pardon will also restore your gun rights, unless the pardon expressly says otherwise.
Again, however, the Board can recommend, and the Governor can place, any conditions, limitations or restrictions on your pardon as they/he deems proper. If you were granted a conditional pardon and were released from prison early as a result, a violation of any of the conditions of the pardon could cause you to be rearrested and thrown back in prison. Likewise, a violation of a conditional pardon could cause your conviction to be reinstated.
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” under federal law, unless the pardon specifically says you cannot possess a gun. However, just because you cannot be prosecuted under federal law does not mean you cannot be prosecuted under state law. Some states have stricter gun laws than federal law. Thus, if regaining your gun rights is important to you, make sure you make you desire known during the application process.
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.
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 Pennsylvania 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 these restrictions from you while you were living in Pennsylvania. 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.
- Pennsylvania on Wikipedia
- Pennsylvania State Bar
- ApplyForPardon .com - Pardon form completion service. Enter your information and get a neat and clean looking form sent to you.
- Record Clearing .org - post conviction information
- Pa. Const. art. 4, § 9
- See Commonwealth v. J.C.K., 651 A.2d 144 (Pa. Super.Ct. 1994)(“Our courts have long recognized the Governor’s authority to grant conditional pardons.”)(citations omitted)
- Board of Pardons, Composition of the Board, http://sites.state.pa.us/PA_Exec/BOP/
- The Sentencing Project, Pennsylvania, Margaret Colgate Love, http://www.sentencingproject.org/tmp/File/Collateral%20Consequences/Pennsylvania.pdf
- Community Legal Services of Pennsylvania, http://www.clsphila.org/Content.aspx?id=634
- Board of Pardons, Factors Considered by the Board, available at http://sites.state.pa.us/PA_Exec/BOP/
- Board of Pardons, Pardon Regulations, 81.232, available at http://sites.state.pa.us/PA_Exec/BOP/
- Board of Pardons, Pardon Regulations, 81.226, available at http://sites.state.pa.us/PA_Exec/BOP/
- Board of Pardons, Pardon Regulations, 81.227, available at http://sites.state.pa.us/PA_Exec/BOP/
- 37 Pa. Code §§ 81.202 and 81.226
- Board of Pardons, Pardon Regulations, 81.281, available at http://sites.state.pa.us/PA_Exec/BOP/
- Board of Pardons, Pardon Regulations, 81.283, available at http://sites.state.pa.us/PA_Exec/BOP/
- Board of Pardons, Pardon Regulations, 81.263, available at http://sites.state.pa.us/PA_Exec/BOP/
- Board of Pardons, Pardon Regulations, 81.292, available at http://sites.state.pa.us/PA_Exec/BOP/
- Board of Pardons, Pardon Regulations, 81.293, available at http://sites.state.pa.us/PA_Exec/BOP/
- Board of Pardons, Pardon Regulations, 81.301, available at http://sites.state.pa.us/PA_Exec/BOP/
- Board of Pardons, Pardon Regulations, 81.302, available at http://sites.state.pa.us/PA_Exec/BOP/
- Board of Pardons, Pardon Regulations, 81.271, available at http://sites.state.pa.us/PA_Exec/BOP/
- See (“A pardon is the exercise of the sovereign’s prerogative of mercy. It completely frees the offender fro the control of the state. It not only exempts him from further punishment but relieves him from all the legal disabilities resulting from his conviction. It blots out the very existence of his guilt, so that, in the eye of the law, he is thereafter as innocent as if he had never committed the offense.”)(citations omitted)
- Board of Pardons, Pardon Regulations, 81.202, available at http://sites.state.pa.us/PA_Exec/BOP/
- Commonwealth v. C.S., 517 Pa. 89, 534 A.2d 1053 (Pa. 1987)(“[A] pardon without expungement is not a pardon.”)(citations omitted)
- 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 9124
- 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 9125
- a. Const. art. 4, § 9; 37 Pa. Code ch. 81; see also The Sentencing Project, Pennsylvania, Margaret Colgate Love, http://www.sentencingproject.org/tmp/File/Collateral%20Consequences/Pennsylvania.pdf
- See generally Commonwealth v. J.C.K., 438 Pa.Super. 1, 651 A.2d 144 (Pa.Super. 1994)
- 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(20) & (33)