Wisconsin Pardon Information
The Constitution of Wisconsin gives the Governor the power to grant pardons, reprieves, and commutations for all offenses except in cases of treason or impeachment. The Legislature can regulate the manner in which you can apply for a pardon in Wisconsin.
The Governor can place any conditions, limitations, or restrictions on a pardon as he or she deems proper. The Governor must report to the Legislature every year, detailing every pardon granted, including the name of the person pardoned, the crime pardoned, the sentence that the person received, and the reason for granting the pardon.
There is a body called the Pardon Advisory Board within the Governor’s office, which receives, reviews, and make recommendations to the Governor on each pardon request. The Board holds quarterly public hearings where it listens to opinions supporting and opposing a pardon application. The Board is made up of 7 members who are appointed by the Governor.
Because the focus of this site is on pardons, we do not discuss reprieves, commutations, remission of fines and forfeitures, parole, or other types of clemency that may be available in Wisconsin here. We also do 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.
The Governor can only grant a pardon for a Wisconsin 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.
Furthermore, the Governor generally only grants pardons for felonies and not misdemeanors. Either the Governor or the Pardon Advisory Board can waive this requirement if you can demonstrate that there are “extraordinary circumstances” to warrant the Governor giving you a pardon on a misdemeanor conviction. An example of an extraordinary circumstance might be that you are being placed in deportation proceedings because of the misdemeanor, and if deported you will be separated from your spouse and children.
If you are currently on probation, parole, or incarcerated, you are generally not eligible to apply for a pardon. Again, however, the Governor or the Board can make an exception to this rule if you can show “extraordinary circumstances.” Here, an example of an extraordinary circumstance might be that you are suffering from a documented terminal illness, do not have much longer to live, and would like to be released early (via a pardon) so you can spend your last days with your loved ones.
Even if you have completed your sentence, you are generally not eligible to apply for a pardon until at least five years have passed since you completed the sentence. Like the previous two rules, if you can show “extraordinary circumstances,” the Governor or the Board can waive this requirement. An example here might be there is a job offer for you conditioned upon you receiving a pardon now, rather than later. You can ask for a waiver even if you are still incarcerated in prison.
The factors which the Pardon Advisory Board and the Governor consider in deciding whether to recommend or grant you a pardon include, but are not limited to:
- The seriousness of the crime
- Your criminal record
- The age of the crime (i.e., how long ago it occurred)
- Your personal development, progress, and rehabilitation since you committed the crime
- Community and other public service involvements.
- Whether you have a significant and documented need for a pardon.
Keep in mind that wanting to “clear your name” or to possess a gun is not considered “significant” unless a substantial period of time has passed since you committed the crime, you have an otherwise clean criminal record, and the crime occurred when you were a minor.
Things that are considered “significant” include the need to find employment, schooling, or job training, or the desire to run for public office. Remember, your assertions must be documented. This means you must obtain a letter from the employer, licensing agency, school, or training program stating that you need to obtain a pardon in order to be considered for the job, school, license, etc. If you cannot obtain these letters, you can submit a letter from someone in the field instead; the purpose of the letter is to state that getting a pardon is necessary to enter that kind of trade or profession.
Finally, keep in mind that pardons are granted very rarely in Wisconsin. The majority of applications received are denied. In 2012, no pardons were granted. Also as of 2012, the pardon process has been suspended indefinitely. Applications currently on file will be saved for future use. However, no new applications will be accepted. 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 Wisconsin. As of this writing, neither the Governor’s office nor the Pardon Advisory Board has made its pardon application materials available for you to access on the Internet. You can obtain a pardon application package by calling the Governor’s office directly at 608-266-1212 and ask for one to be sent or emailed to you. You can also write to:
Office of the Governor, Pardon Advisory Board
Room 115 East, State Capitol Building
P.O. Box 7863
Madison, WI 53707
If you dig hard enough, you may be able to find a pardon application package on the Internet that other individuals or entities have posted there. If you do, make sure the application is the most up to date. Using an outdated application can cause your application to be rejected. It is probably safest to call the Governor’s office and have the application materials sent to you. There will be detailed instructions in the application package which you should read carefully. We only detail some of the important ones here.
If you do not meet the eligibility rules listed in Part B above (e.g., you were not convicted of a felony, you are currently incarcerated or still or probation or parole, or it has been less than five years since you completed your sentence), you should ask the Governor’s office to also send you an “Eligibility Rule Waiver Request” form.
The application form (as well as the waiver form, if applicable) should be rather simple and self-explanatory, as it was created for the non-lawyer to use. Among other things, you will be asked to list information about every conviction you have ever received, including the name of the crime, the date you committed it, the sentence you received, the date of the sentence, the date you were discharged, and the place where you were incarcerated (if applicable).
If you do not have sufficient information about a particular conviction, you should contact the law enforcement agency that was 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 your criminal history report. You can do this by calling the Department of Justice, Crime Information Bureau, at (608) 266-2764. You can also make an online request at http://wi-recordcheck.org. The report should list all arrest, charges, and convictions you have ever received in Wisonsin.
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 arrests/convictions. Listed on Criminal History Record Repositories is a list of criminal history record repositories for all 50 states.
You will need to attach along with your application a certified copy of the Judgment of Conviction and a certified copy of the Criminal Complaint for each conviction you are seeking a pardon for. You can obtain these documents from the clerk’s office in the court where you were convicted. (A certified copy is one that has the court clerk’s signature certifying that it is accurate and complete.) The clerk’s office will usually charge a small fee for obtaining these documents. If for some reason the clerk cannot find these documents, you need to ask them to provide you with a letter stating this.
The application form will ask you to describe in your own words the facts/circumstances of each crime you are seeking a pardon for. You should just be honest with the Board here. Describe what happened and the extent of your involvement. Keep in mind, however, that the Board/Governor will not be retrying you for the offense. Don’t try to make excessive excuses or argue 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.
You will also be asked to explain, on a separate sheet of paper, the reasons why you need a pardon. This may be the most important part of your application. 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 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.
On the same sheet of paper, you must also explain to the Board all the positive things that have occurred in your life since your conviction, such as educational achievements, new or steady employment, marriage and children, community involvement, charitable donations, law-abiding behavior, etc. Also explain your plans for the future, and how a pardon would help you. 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.
You will be responsible for notifying the judge and district attorney (or assistant district attorney) who was involved in the case, even if they are no longer in office. The forms for notifying these individuals are included in the application package. Their names are stated in the Judgment of Conviction sheet. If you cannot locate either of these individuals, you will need to give notice to the current Chief Judge and/or the current District Attorney in the county where you were convicted. The purpose of this is to solicit the opinions/recommendations of the judge and district attorney.
Additionally, if you were incarcerated, you will need to notify the prison keeper by sending a notice (included in the application package) to:
Records Center, Dodge Correctional Institution
P.O. Box 661
Waupun, WI 53963-0661
The notices above will all need to be filled out, signed, and sent to the judge, district attorney, and Records Center (if applicable). These individuals will need to sign the forms and return them directly to the Governor’s office.
If you are currently incarcerated, on probation or parole, and you received a waiver to apply for a pardon, you will need to publish a notice of your pardon hearing in a (subscription-based) newspaper in the county where you were convicted. The form for doing this will also be included in the application package. The notice will need to be published at least once per week for two consecutive weeks in the “legal notices” section of the newspaper. If you cannot afford to pay for the notice in the newspaper, you will need to send a copy of your prison account to the Governor’s office, who may publish the notice for you.
The application form must notarized, which means it must be signed in front of a notary public. You can find a notary public in most banks. They typically charge a small fee, usually depending on whether you have an account with that particular bank.
Also, although not 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.
Keep a copy of everything you send for your records. Your completed application, including all supporting documents and letters of recommendation, should be sent to:
Office of the Governor, Pardon Advisory Board
Room 115 East, State Capitol Building
P.O. Box 7863
Madison, WI 53707
After the Governor’s office receives your completed application, you will be asked to appear at a public hearing on your application before the Board. You will be notified of the time and place of the hearing. You do not need a lawyer at the hearing (in fact, the Board recommends against it). You should be upfront and cooperative with the Board and its agents at all times.
At the hearing, the Board will ask you various questions, and you will have an opportunity to explain to the Board why you need a pardon. Although pardon hearings are typically not as formal as court hearings, you should still look and act your best; dress in the same way you would if you were going to court for a trial. If possible, have friends, family, clergy, and other members of your community attend the hearing to show their support for your application. They may even have an opportunity to speak out for you. The hearing is an excellent opportunity for you to put a human face onto your application; it lets the Board see you in person as well as the support you have in your community.
The Governor’s office will also notify the victim about your application and the hearing. The victim will be given an opportunity to submit their written opinion on your application. The victim will also be free to attend the hearing to oppose your application.
After the hearing, the Board will meet to vote on whether to recommend the Governor grant or deny your application. The Board will then send its recommendation to the Governor, who has the final say on whether or not you receive a pardon. The Governor generally follows the Board’s recommendation.
Because of the volume of applications, the Governor does not meet personally with any applicant. You will be notified of the Governor’s decision by mail. If your application is denied, you can reapply 18 months later following the date on the denial letter.
A pardon is primarily intended to forgive you of the crime you committed and to restore you of any rights which you lost as a result of the conviction. In Wisconsin, a person who has been convicted of a felony loses the following rights:
- The right to vote
- The right to serve on a jury
- The right to possess a gun
- The right to hold public office
- The right to hold various licenses (e.g., alcohol and tobacco licenses, teacher’s license, private investigator license, etc.)
Your rights to vote and serve on a jury are automatically restored once you complete your sentence (including any probation or parole) for the particular conviction. Therefore, if you are only concerned about these rights, a pardon is probably not necessary. To have other rights restored, you will need to obtain a pardon. A pardon is the only method of restoring your rights to hold public office, to obtain various licenses, and to possess a gun. However, if you lost a public office as a result of a conviction, a pardon for that conviction will not restore you to that office. In other words, you will not get your job back. The pardon simply makes you eligible to hold public office again.
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. 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. 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.
A pardon in Wisconsin does not erase, seal, or expunge your conviction from your criminal record. The pardon does not make you innocent of the crime again. Even after you receive a pardon, you must continue to admit that you were convicted of that particular crime if asked on an application. You can, of course, mention that you were pardoned of the particular crime, which may mitigate the effects of it. A pardon is, after all, a strong official statement of forgiveness and rehabilitation from the State’s highest executive officer. Most employers, licensing agencies, and landlords will probably ignore the conviction if they know you have been pardoned.
Unfortunately, there are no methods for sealing or expunging a person’s adult felony records in Wisconsin. On the other hand, a misdemeanor conviction can be expunged if you committed the misdemeanor while you were under the age of 21. Talk to an attorney knowledgeable about this process if you are interested.
Unless the Governor grants you a pardon based on innocence (for example, DNA conclusively shows that someone else committed the crime), a conviction that has been pardoned can still be used to enhance your sentence under Wisconsin’s habitual (or repeat) criminal offender law for any future convictions you receive.
Recall in Part A of this chapter that the Governor can place any conditions, limitations, or restrictions on a pardon as he deems proper. If the Governor grants you a conditional pardon and releases from prison early as a result, the Governor can revoke the pardon, have you rearrested and thrown back in prison if you violate any of the conditions of the pardon.
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 Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin. 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.
- Wisconsin on Wikipedia
- Wisconsin 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
- Wis. Const. art. V, § 6
- Office of the Governor, Jim Doyle, Pardon Advisory Board, http://www.wisgov.state.wi.us/appointments_detail.asp?boardid=114
- The Sentencing Project, Wisconsin, Margaret Colgate Love, http://www.sentencingproject.org/tmp/File/Collateral%20Consequences/Wisconsin.pdf
- Alan Colvin, Constituent Services
- Wis. Stat. § 304.09
- Wis. Stat. § 304.10
- Wis. Const. art. 13, § 3; Wis. Stat. § 941.29
- Wis. Stat. § 17.03
- 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(20) & (33)
- Wis. Stat. § 973.015
- Wis. Stat. §§ 939.62 and 973.12
- Wis. Stat. § 304.11