South Carolina Pardon Information

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Authority

Unlike in most other states, the power to grant a pardon in South Carolina does not belong to the Governor. According to the South Carolina Constitution, the Governor only has the power to grant reprieves and commutations.

Rather, there is a body called the Board of Probation, Parole, and Pardon Services (we will refer to it here as the “Board”) which has the power to grant pardons and other types of clemency.[1] The Board is made up of seven members who are appointed by the Governor and serve six-year terms.[2] In order to get a pardon, at least two-thirds of the Board members must agree to grant you a pardon.[3]

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

Eligibility

If you are/were on probation, you are eligible to apply for a pardon after you have been released from supervision.[4] If you are/were on parole, you are eligible to apply for a pardon if you have successfully completed at least five years under supervision; however, if your parole period is/was less than five years, you are eligible the moment you are released from supervision.[4] If you did not receive probation or parole, you are eligible to apply any time after you are discharged from your sentence.[4]

You can also apply for a pardon even if you are still in prison. However, if you are applying before you are eligible for parole, you must show “extraordinary circumstances.”[4] This is obviously a very high standard. You will probably have to show something along the lines of a terminal illness or DNA evidence which conclusively proves your innocence of the crime. In fact, if you are a prison inmate who is afflicted with a terminal illness and you have one year or less left to live, the Board is required to consider your application.[5]

The victim of your crime or a family member of yours who is residing in South Carolina can petition for a pardon on your behalf if you have completed supervision (parole, probation, etc.) or have been discharged from your sentence.[4] If you still owe any victim restitution or other court-imposed fines, you are not eligible for a pardon until you have paid them off.[6]

The Board can only grant a pardon for a South Carolina state conviction.[7] 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.

Fortunately, unlike many other states, the rate at which pardons are granted in South Carolina is quite high. About 60% of all pardons applications received every year are granted.[7] In 2012, 799 applications were received. 554 pardons were granted and 315 applications were denied.[8] This does not mean you should be lazy or complacent and not present a compelling application.

Your 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 of getting a pardon 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

The Board has conveniently placed its pardon application form on its website for you to download at http://www.dppps.sc.gov/pardon_download_application.html. If you cannot access the Board’s website or the application form itself, you can contact the Board directly at 803-734-9265 or 803-734-9220 and request that one be mailed or emailed to you. You can also write to:

Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services
Attn: Legal Services, Pardon Application Processing
2221 Devine Street, Suite 600
P.O. Box 50666 Columbia, SC 29250

The application form is rather simple and self-explanatory, as it was created for the non-lawyer to use. Be prepared to list all arrests and convictions you have ever received (in South Carolina and elsewhere, including federal offenses), excluding minor traffic and parking tickets. You will need to know the name of the offense, the date you were arrested or convicted, and the county where you were arrested or convicted.

If you do not remember all of your arrests and convictions, you can obtain your South Carolina criminal history report from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, Central Records Department, by calling (803) 896-7043 or logging onto its website at http://www.sled.state.sc.us. The report will list all arrests and convictions you have ever received in South Carolina.

If you have arrests/convictions in other states, you can obtain a more comprehensive, nationwide criminal report for yourself from the FBI. You can find out how to do this by calling the FBI’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., at (202) 324-3000, or logging onto its website at http://www.fbi.gov. The FBI’s website also has a list of local FBI offices you can call. Alternatively, you can contact the criminal history record repository (which keeps a record of all criminal activity in a state) in each state where you have arrests/convictions. Listed on Criminal History Record Repositories is a list of criminal history record repositories for all 50 states.

As of this writing, there is a non-refundable pardon application fee of $100.00 which you must send along with your application. The fee must be in the form of a money order or cashier’s check and made payable to the South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole and Pardons Services.

You will need to submit three letters of reference along with your application. The letters cannot come from anyone who is related to you by blood or marriage. These should come from credible people (such as your boss) who know you well and can say good things about you. The letters must list the name, address, home and work telephone number of the person, and must be signed and dated by the person. The letters must also state that the person supports your application for a pardon and the reason why. The Board will contact these people for verification.

You will also need to sign a release (attached to the application) authorizing the Board to obtain information about your employment, military, credit, medical, education, and other records. The release must be notarized, which means it must be signed in front of a notary public. You can find a notary public in most banks. They may charge a small fee, usually depending on whether you have an account with that bank.

If you have ever been ordered to pay any victim restitution or other court-imposed fines as part of a sentence, you will need to submit a certified statement from the appropriate authority (usually the court itself) which indicates that you have paid all restitution and other fines in full.

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, don’t simply say you want a clean criminal record again. Tell the Board 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 you and your family 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 will not be retrying you for the offense. Although you may feel the need to explain the facts of the crime from your perspective, 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 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.

Keep a copy of everything you send for your records. Your completed application, along with your personal statement, all supporting documents, the three letters of reference, and the $100.00 check, should be mailed to:

South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services
P.O. Box 50666
Columbia, SC 29250

After the Board receives your application, it will determine whether you are eligible; if so, your application will be investigated by agents of the Board. An investigation may involve a personal interview on you. You should be upfront and cooperative with the Board and its agents at all times.

After investigation is complete, a hearing will be held on your application. You will have an opportunity to be present at the hearing and make a statement or presentation in your support.[9] If possible, you should have a few people there to support you and possibly speak out for you (if allowed). The hearing will be an excellent opportunity for you to put a human face onto your application; it lets the Board not only see you in person but also see the support you have in your community.

The hearing will be before the entire Board. The victim and/or representative of the State may be there to oppose your application. You should act and look your best; dress in the same way you would if you were going to court for a trial. In order to get a pardon, at least two-thirds of the Board members must agree to grant you a pardon.[10]

If your application is denied, you cannot reapply until one year has passed after the date you were denied.[11] If you are granted a pardon, the Board will issue you a “certificate of pardon” which states that you have been absolved of all legal consequences of your conviction and that all of your citizenship rights have been restored.[12]

If you are an in-state applicant, the whole process can take between seven and nine months.[13] If you are living outside the state, the process can take much longer.[13]


The Effects

A pardon in South Carolina means that you are fully pardoned from all the legal consequences of the crime you committed, direct and indirect. This includes relieving you of any further imprisonment, pecuniary penalties, and any other punishment that the law allows for that particular crime.[14]

A pardon specifically restores the following rights which may have been taken from you when you were convicted[14]:

  • Right to vote.
  • Right to serve on a jury.
  • Right to hold public office (unless you were convicted of embezzlement of public funds).

Keep in mind that many if not all of those rights are usually automatically restored once you complete your sentence (including any parole or probation).[7] Therefore, if you are only concerned with having these rights restored, a pardon might not be necessary. However, a pardon confers additional benefits as discussed in the following.

Once you have been pardoned, the particular conviction which has been pardoned cannot be used to impeach you (attack your credibility) if you are ever a witness in any future court proceeding.[14] Nor can it be used as a prior conviction for purposes of enhancing your sentence for any future criminal conviction you receive.[15]

Moreover, a pardon removes any disabilities from you with respect to obtaining a business, occupational, or professional license (nursing, teaching, law, etc.).[14] Finally, you cannot be denied a handgun permit on the basis of a conviction which has been pardoned; in other words, a pardon typically restores your gun rights unless it states otherwise.[16]

There are some limitations on the effects of a pardon. For example, 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 can cause you to be rearrested and thrown back in prison to serve the remainder of your sentence.[17]

If your driver’s license was revoked because of a DUI, a pardon will not restore your driving privileges. Only the South Carolina Department of Public Safety (DPS) can restore your driving privileges.[13] Also, the law is unclear at the time of this writing whether a pardon will release you of your duty to continue registering as a sex offender.[18] You should clarify this with the Board or an attorney once you receive the pardon. The punishment for not registering as a sex offender can be severe.

A pardon will also not seal, erase, or expunge your conviction from your criminal record. When applying for a job or license, you may indicate on the application that you were pardoned of the particular crime, but you cannot deny that you were convicted of that crime.[13] Most employers and licensing agencies will probably ignore your conviction if they know you have received a pardon.

Depending on your conviction and your criminal history, there may be a way to expunge your conviction by applying with a court. You should talk to an attorney knowledgeable about criminal record expungements to see if you qualify and what the process for that would be.

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.[19] 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.

Also, 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 South Carolina 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 on you while you were living in South Carolina. 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. S.C. Code § 24-21-920
  2. S.C. Code § 24-21-10
  3. S.C. Code § 24-21-930
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 S.C. Code § 24-21-950
  5. S.C. Code § 24-21-970
  6. S.C. Code § 17-25-322(E)
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 The Sentencing Project, South Carolina, Margaret Colgate Love, http://www.sentencingproject.org/tmp/File/Collateral%20Consequences/SouthCarolina.pdf
  8. Beth Anderson, Board of Probation, Parole, and Pardon Services
  9. S.C. Code § 24-21-50
  10. S.C. Code § 24-21-930
  11. S.C. Code § 24-21-960
  12. S.C. Code § 24-21-1000
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 State of South Carolina, Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services, Frequently Asked Questions, http://www.dppps.sc.gov/pardon_faq.html
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 S.C. Code § 24-21-940
  15. State v. Baucom, 531 S.E.2d 922 (S.C. 2000)
  16. Brunson v. Stewart, 547 S.E.2d 504 (S.C. Ct. App. 2001); see also The Sentencing Project, South Carolina, Margaret Colgate Love, http://www.sentencingproject.org/tmp/File/Collateral%20Consequences/SouthCarolina.pdf
  17. See Cook v. Sanders, Supt. Penitentiary, 115 S.E. 760, 123 S.C. 28 (S.C. 1922)(“Where a pardon is granted upon any condition subsequent that is not immoral, illegal, or impossible \of performance, and is accepted by the convict upon those terms, for breach of the condition or conditions at any time thereafter the pardoned prisoner may be lawfully arrested and required to serve out the unexpired portion of his suspended, but still potent, sentence.”)
  18. See generally Attorney General Opinion, No. 02-22 (April 22, 2002)
  19. 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(20) & (33)