Tennessee Pardon Information

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Authority

The Constitution of Tennessee gives the Governor the power to grant pardons and reprieves, after conviction, except in cases of impeachment.[1] The Governor can impose any conditions, limitations and restrictions on a pardon as he deems proper.[2] The Legislature can regulate the manner in which you can apply for a pardon.[3]

There is a body in Tennessee called the Board of Probation and Parole whose duty is to receive, review, and make non-binding recommendations to the Governor on pardon applications.[4] We shall refer to it here as the “Board.” The Board is made up of seven members who are appointed by the Governor and serve six-year terms.[5]

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

RecordGone See http://www.recordclearing.org/states/tennessee/ for more info on options for record sealing and expungement

Eligibility

In order to be considered for a pardon, you must have completed your sentence, including any probation, parole, or community supervision. The Governor will give serious consideration to your application if:

  1. You have not been convicted, confined, or placed under community supervision within the five years since you completed your sentence for the offense you are seeking a pardon for.
  2. You can demonstrate that you have been a good citizen, which means staying out of any criminal involvement and having specific achievements in your life (getting a college degree, for example).
  3. You can demonstrate, with proper verification, a specific and compelling need for a pardon (a job offer or desire to enter a particular profession, or that you are facing imminent deportation for a minor offense, for example).

The Board can only recommend, and the Governor can only grant, a pardon for a Tennessee state conviction.[6] 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 the vast majority of pardon applications are denied in Tennessee.[6] For example, between 1996 and 2002, the Board received 241 applications, but the Governor ultimately only granted 15 pardons.[6] In 2012, 52 applications were received. No pardons were granted and 52 applications were denied.[7]

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

There are no application fees to apply for a pardon in Tennessee. The Board has conveniently made its pardon application form available for you to access on the Internet at http://www.tn.gov/bopp/bopp_bo.htm#EXECUTIVE%20CLEMENCY%20SECTION. If you cannot access the Board’s website or the pardon application form itself, you can submit a request by e-mail at bopp.webmail@state.tn.us. You can also write or fax to:

Board Operations Division
404 James Robertson Pkwy, Suite 1300
Nashville, TN 37243
Fax: 615-741-5337

The form is rather simple and self-explanatory, as it was created for the non-lawyer to use. It will you basic information such as your name, any aliases you have used, driver’s license, address, marital status, employment history, information about your children, among other things.

You will also be asked to list information about all of your felony convictions, including those you received as a juvenile. The Board wants to know the date you were convicted, the state you were convicted in, and what the outcome (disposition) was. If you do not have sufficient information about a particular conviction, you should contact the law enforcement agency involved in the case and/or the court where you were convicted.

If you do not remember all of your convictions, you may need to obtain a criminal history report for yourself. You can do this by contacting the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation at (615) 744-4004. You can also log onto its website at http://www.tbi.state.tn.us/. The report should list all convictions you have received in Tennessee.

If you have convictions in other states, you can obtain a more comprehensive, nationwide criminal report from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. 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 convictions. Listed on Criminal History Record Repositories is a list of criminal history record repositories for all 50 states.

You are required to submit the following things along with your application:

  • Certified copies of all of your convictions/judgments.
  • A certified copy of the order granting you probation (if any).
  • A certified copy of the order discharging you from probation or parole (if any).
  • A certified copy of your criminal history.
  • A one-page narrative summary explaining your participation in the crime for each case you are requesting a pardon for.

In writing your one-page narrative summary, keep in mind that the Board/Governor will not be retrying you for the offense. Thus, 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.

In addition to those things, you need to submit proof that you satisfy the eligibility criteria noted above in section B—namely that you are a “good citizen” and that you have a “specific and compelling need” for a pardon. To demonstrate good citizenship, you must submit:

  • Written verification (basically letters) from at least five individuals other than yourself and a family member. The writer must indicate the period during which they’ve known you to be a good citizen. The letters should explain why he or she thinks you were a good citizen during that time period.
  • Proof of positive achievements. Examples include copies of your college transcript, high school diploma or GED; awards and recognitions from work and elsewhere; professional licenses; military involvement; community service; charitable donations; anything else that shows your rehabilitation and good character.

To demonstrate a “specific and compelling need” for a pardon, you must provide proof or verification from someone other than yourself or a family member. Some examples include:

  • A rejection letter from an employer indicating that you were denied the job because of your conviction;
  • A rejection letter from a state licensing Board (teacher’s license, nursing license, attorney license, etc.) stating that you were not eligible for the license because you do not have good moral character.
  • A letter from a prospective employer stating that you will receive a job on the condition that you obtain a pardon.
  • Court documents placing you in deportation proceedings.
  • Court papers showing that you applied for a judicial expungement or another form of remedy but were rejected.

Generally, you will not be deemed to have a compelling need for a pardon if there are alternative remedies that you qualify for, such as a judicial expungement. You may want to talk to an attorney before you apply for a pardon to see if you qualify for any of these alternative remedies.

Your application must be notarized—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 particular bank.

Make a copy of everything you send for your records. Your completed application, along with all supporting documents and letters, should be mailed to:

Board of Probation and Parole
Division of Board Operations
404 James Robertson Parkway, Suite 1300
Nashville, TN 37243

After the Board receives your application, the first thing it does is determine whether a hearing should be held in your case. If the Board decides that a hearing should not be held, this means your application is denied. You cannot appeal the Board’s decision. The Board will notify you in writing why your application was denied and when you can reapply.[8]

If the Board decides to a hold a hearing in your case, you will be notified of the date, time, and location. The hearing will be open to the public. At the hearing, you are allowed to present witnesses and evidence in support of your application.[8] You should be upfront and cooperative with the Board, the Governor’s office, and their agents at all times.

The Board will notify the judge and district attorney in the county where you were sentenced of the crime.[9] The Board will also notify the victim of the crime.[10] The Board will ask those individuals for their opinion/recommendation on your application.[8] The Board will provide you with more information about the hearing (such as what kind of evidence it will consider) once you are scheduled for a hearing.

You must look and act your best at the hearing. Dress in the same way you would if you were going to court for a trial. Additionally, if possible, have your friends, family members, co-workers, church members, or others in your community attend the hearing to show their support, even if they are not going to be a witness. The hearing is 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.

At the hearing, the Board will consider, but is not limited to, the following factors in making its decision[8]:

  • The nature and severity of your offense(s).
  • Your institutional record.
  • Your entire criminal history.
  • The views of the judge and district attorney who were involved in the case.
  • The sentence you were given.
  • Whether there were any co-defendants or others involved in the offense.
  • Your age at the time of the offense.
  • The views of the community, the victims and their families, parole officers, and other interested persons.
  • The medical and/or psychiatric evaluation (if there is one).

After the hearing, the Board will send a recommendation to the Governor to either grant or deny you a pardon. You will usually be told of the Board’s recommendation right at the end of the hearing.

The Governor will consider your application even if the Board recommends a denial. If the Governor feels that there is not enough information to make a decision, he can send your application back to the Board or request further information from the Board. The Board will notify you of the Governor’s final decision.

The Effects

A pardon is an official statement forgiving you of the crime you were convicted of. This should not be confused with “expungement.” A pardon does not seal, erase, or expunge your conviction from your criminal record.[11] Getting a pardon for a crime does not mean you are suddenly innocent of the crime again.[12] Your pardoned conviction will still be viewable by the general public.

If you are concerned that your conviction might be a problem when you apply for a job, housing, a business or occupational license, you should send the employer, landlord, or licensing agency a copy of your pardon so they know you have been forgiven of the crime and found to be rehabilitated. Depending on the individual or entity, they may choose to ignore a conviction that has been pardoned. However, unless you let them know that you have been pardoned, these individuals and entities will not know you have been pardoned of the particular crime because pardons do not become part of your criminal record.[6] Most employers, landlords, and licensing agencies will probably ignore your conviction if they know you have been pardoned.

If you can show that you were actually innocent of the crime you were convicted of (for example, you have DNA evidence that proves someone else committed the crime), you can ask the Governor to grant you something called an “exoneration.” This is different from a pardon. An exoneration is a separate type of clemency that doesn’t just forgive you of the offense; it declares you innocent and erases all records (arrest, indictment, conviction) pertaining to the case.[13]

If your conviction was for manslaughter, your citizenship rights are automatically restored once you are pardoned of that particular conviction.[14] This includes all rights you had before you were convicted.[14]

For all other offenses, you must apply to a court (the circuit court in the county where you reside) to have your citizenship rights restored after you receive a pardon.[15] In other words, the pardon may make you eligible for restoration of your rights, but it does automatically restore those rights.

When you apply to a court to restore your rights, you will be required to submit a formal petition to the circuit court in the county where you live or where you were convicted of the crime.[16] You will need to show that ever since the conviction you have lived an honest, respectable, law-abiding life, which can be attested by your neighbors and others in your community.[16] Both state and federal prosecutors will have an opportunity to oppose your petition.[17]

Because the court process for applying for restoration of rights is typically more formal and adversarial than the pardon process, you might want to retain an attorney to assist you with it. You may be able to restore your rights even without obtaining a pardon. Also, whereas you can only get a pardon for a Tennessee conviction, you can judicially restore your citizenship rights which were lost as a result of federal and out-of-state convictions.[6] However, depending on your situation, some of your rights may have already been restored when you completed your sentence for the crime. An attorney would be able to tell you what the most appropriate option for you would be.

At any rate, if you would like your gun rights restored along with your other rights, you should remember to specifically request that in your application for a pardon and/or your court petition to restore your citizenship rights. If you have ever been convicted of a violent felony, you can never possess a gun again in Tennessee, even with a pardon.[18]

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.[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.

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.

As we stated in Part A of this chapter, the Governor can place any conditions, limitations, or restrictions on a pardon as he deems proper. If the Governor gives you a conditional pardon and you are released from prison early as a result, you can be rearrested and thrown back in prison if you violate any of the conditions of the pardon.[20]

A conviction that has been pardoned can still be used against you to enhance your sentence for any future conviction.[21] As we indicated above, a pardon does not seal, erase, or expunge your conviction; only an exoneration can do that.

However, if you were arrested and/or charged of a crime which did not result in a conviction (for example, you were acquitted or the charges were dismissed), you can apply to a court to have the records pertaining to the arrest/charge expunged.[22] Talk to an attorney about this.

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 Tennessee 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 Tennessee. 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. Tenn. Const. art. 3, § 6
  2. Tenn. Code § 40-27-102
  3. Tenn. Code § 40-27-101
  4. Tenn. Code § 40-28-126; see also Tenn. Code § 40-28-104
  5. Tenn. Code § 40-28-103
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 The Sentencing Project, Tennessee, Margaret Colgate Love, http://www.sentencingproject.org/tmp/File/Collateral%20Consequences/Tennessee.pdf
  7. http://blogs.knoxnews.com/humphrey/2011/01/bredesen-commutes-death-senten.html
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Tenn. Comp. R. & Regs. § 1100-1-1-.15
  9. Tenn. Comp. R. & Regs. § 1100-1-1-.05
  10. Tenn. Code § 40-38-110
  11. Application for Clemency, Instruction Sheet, http://www.tn.gov/bopp/Docs/ClemencyApplicationProcess=02-13-03.pdf; see also State v. Blanchard, 100 S.W.3d 226 (Tenn.Crim.App. 2002)(“[O]ur supreme court has recognized that our expungement statute ‘authorizes one who has successfully defended a criminal charge to have all public records of the case expunged . . . .’ . . . .The statute does not provide, except under very limited circumstances not applicable here, for expungement upon conviction and the subsequent grant of an executive pardon.”)(citations omitted).
  12. See State v. Blanchard, 100 S.W.3d 226 (Tenn.Crim.App. 2002)(“There is a significant and fundamental difference . . . between an acquittal and a pardon. . . .Pardon implies guilt. If there be no guilt, there is no ground for forgiveness. It is an appeal to executive clemency. It is asked as a matter of favor to the guilty. It is granted not of right but of grace. A party is acquitted on the ground of innocence; he is pardoned through favor. . . .[‘W]hile a full pardon restore’s one’s civil rights and remits all punishment associated with the conviction, it does not obliterate the fact of the commission of the crime and the conviction thereof; nor does it wash out the moral stain. In other words, it involves forgiveness and not forgetfulness.’”)(citations omitted).
  13. Tenn. Code § 40-27-109
  14. 14.0 14.1 Tenn. Code § 40-27-108
  15. Tenn. Code § 40-29-101 et seq
  16. 16.0 16.1 Tenn. Code § 40-29-102
  17. Tenn. Code § 40-29-103
  18. State v. Johnson, 79 S.W.3d 522 (Tenn. 2002)
  19. 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(20) & (33)
  20. See Tenn. Code § 40-27-102
  21. State ex rel. Ves v. Bomar, 213 Tenn. 487, 376 S.W.2d 446 (Tenn. 1964)
  22. Tenn. Code § 40-32-101