What is a pardon in Pennsylvania? Pardons refer to a constitutional procedure by which the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons reviews an application for ‘clemency’ (which asks to have the applicant’s criminal conduct ‘pardoned’, or forgiven).
Anyone with a criminal conviction in Pennsylvania can apply for a pardon by the governor. (Not sure if you have a criminal record in PA? There are two types.) If a Pardon is granted, then the criminal record can then be expunged (or cleared). More importantly, a pardon erases the offense as if it never happened. It need not be disclosed on any application or job interview.
The likelihood of actually getting a pardon, however, depends on certain factors and how you approach the process. First, it is necessary to understand the typical scenarios under which pardons are granted. The majority of people who ultimately receive pardons have either been convicted of a minor crime at least 5 years ago or a more serious crime at least 10 years ago. One of the reasons for the delay is that those reviewing your case want to see that you’ve stayed out of trouble for a reasonable amount of time.
Pardon Process in Pennsylvania
The PA pardon process is somewhat straightforward, but a considerable amount of work must be done in order for it to have a chance at being successful.
As you’re about to see, it can also be very time-consuming.
Step 1: The Application
The first step toward receiving a pardon begins with the application process. Filing an application for a pardon requires quite a bit of preparation, planning, and minor application fees. Each application is unique and assigned a specific case number. Upon completion, a letter will be sent to the applicant notifying them of the status of the application. If more information is necessary, the Board of Pardons office will identify what is missing and the application won’t be considered “filed” until that information is provided.
Step 2: Background Investigation
Once the application is filed, the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons will notify the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, and an agent will be assigned to the case. The agent will investigate the facts surrounding the criminal conviction(s) and will request a meeting with you. The agent will also ask for a host of material documents. Should you fail to comply with the agent, your application will be withdrawn before it even gets to the Board of Pardons for review.
Step 3: Notifications
In order to receive a hearing from the Board of Pardons, at least two members of the five-member Board must vote in favor of it (three, if the applicant is serving life in prison or is serving time for a crime of violence). If a hearing is granted, the following interested parties are notified:
- Applicants and their representatives
- The Board of Probation and Parole
- The District Attorney of the County where the conviction was obtained
- The President Judge of the County where the conviction was obtained
- The Department of Corrections (if the applicant is incarcerated)
- Victims and/or survivors
- The newspaper of record in the County where the conviction was obtained (newspaper publication of the pardon application is required for a hearing to be held)
Step 4: The Hearing
Once everyone has been notified of the hearing and a date has been scheduled and placed on the calendar, a hearing will be held in the Supreme Court Courtroom in Harrisburg.
If you are fortunate enough to be granted a hearing, you will have just 15 minutes to present your case to the Board and answer questions. This is your opportunity to present character witnesses, explain the circumstances of your conviction, and describe how you have lived your life since the criminal conviction.
The process for the presentation will proceed in this order:
- Applicant’s presentation
- Witnesses who wish to speak to the moral character of the applicant in support of the application for clemency
- Witnesses who wish to speak against the application for clemency
Step 5: The Board of Pardons Decision
After reviewing pardon applications and hearing testimony from applicants, the Board takes a vote to determine who they believe should receive a pardon.
The Board seems to weigh and consider several factors:
- The nature of the crimes (including if it was a non-violent or violent crime);
- Why the crime occurred (circumstances that led to their commission);
- Whether the Petitioner accepts responsibility for the conduct;
- The amount of time that has passed since the crimes;
- The hardship that is being created by the criminal history – education, licensing, occupational, clearances, employment history etc…
- How the Petitioner has contributed to society since the crime.
Members of the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons, which include the Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor, the Pennsylvania Attorney General, a corrections expert, a psychiatrist, and a victim’s rights advocate, will convene in executive session to consider the application. Upon deliberation, they will then reconvene in public and cast votes. A successful pardon petition requires three members of the Board of Pardons to vote favorably. If a majority of the board (at least 3 members) votes in favor of clemency, a recommendation from the Board will be sent to the Governor for review.
Note that the official pardon is not granted during this step.
Step 6: The Governor’s Decision
Once he receives the recommendations, the Governor has total discretion over whose pardon requests they will grant. The Governor has no constitutionally mandated time frame within which he must make their decision.
If Pardoned: Expungement Petition
If the Governor approves and the Pardon is granted, then an expungement petition can be filed in the County Court to remove the offending history.
If Denied: Reapplication
If a pardon application is denied, the applicant may not reapply for at least 12 months after the vote has been cast. In order for the new application to be considered, a change in circumstances or another compelling reason must be demonstrated. If it is, the process will begin again. If it is denied a second time, the application must wait 24 months to resubmit a third application.
Here’s the thing…
Fortunately, you don’t have to go through the process alone. We can help.
Not only can Record Eraser help navigate the process for you, our knowledgeable staff can help you prepare an application and testimony that will increase your chances of receiving favorable votes.
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- Who is eligible for a pardon in Pennsylvania?
- How much time does a person have to wait to apply for a Pardon?
- How long does the pardon process take in Pennsylvania?
- Is my PA pardon application public record?
- Do I need to disclose my pardon in a job application/interview?
- Is the pardon guaranteed?
- How much does it cost to apply (file/petition) for a Pardon in Pennsylvania?
Who is Eligible for a Pardon in Pennsylvania?
Virtually any offense or combination of offenses can be pardoned. This procedure is more powerful than expungement, redaction, or record sealing – summary convictions can be pardoned, and also felony and misdemeanor convictions.
The PA Governor’s Board of Pardons will examine the nature of the charges, the reason for the charges, the time that has passed, what the person has done with their life since the charges, if they accept responsibility for the conduct, and what hardships the person faces because of the criminal history.
Not sure if you have a record in Pennsylvania? Learn about both types of criminal records in PA here.
Want to erase your PA criminal record? We can help.
How Much Time Does a Person Have To Wait To Apply For a Pardon?
That is up to the Board of Pardons. The majority of people who ultimately receive pardons have either been convicted of a minor crime at least five years ago or, if it’s a more serious crime, 10 years or more.
The Board of Pardons in PA considers several factors (see “Who is Eligible for a Pardon in Pennsylvania?” above).
How Long Does the Pardon Process Take in Pennsylvania?
It varies, but typically takes several years (which is why you’ll want an experienced pardon attorney who knows the process inside and out.).
Simply ordering your complete criminal record from the Pennsylvania State Police alone can take up to six months.
It can take another two to three months to gather all the documentation: criminal complaints, affidavits, sentencing sheets, driving record, etc.
Once filed, the Commonwealth’s 5-member Board of Pardons, which is tasked with recommending worthy applicants to the governor for review, can take a up to 3 years from the time the application is submitted to even review it and grant you a hearing.
If the Board approves an application and makes a recommendation to the Governor for clemency, the decision to grant or deny a pardon is at the Governor’s sole discretion (and can take as long as they want).
Is My PA Pardon Application Public Record?
The short answer is yes. The process for clearing your record through the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons is a lengthy one, and you should be prepared to have a public hearing and your request for a pardon become part of the public record.
While the Board of Pardons doesn’t require anything other than the request to be published in the newspaper of record, this information could be used to revive former reports about the original incident. Typically, however, only an entry is made about the pardon request.
Do I Need To Disclose My Pardon In a Job Application/Interview?
Is The Pardon Guaranteed?
No. Because the Board of Pardons considers and weighs so many factors, it is not guaranteed. It is however the only avenue available for those with felony and misdemeanor convictions. That’s why you should have help from an experienced pardon attorney in PA.
How Much Does It Cost to Apply (File/Petition) For a Pardon in Pennsylvania?
The rates vary depending on the services required, but can be quoted by email or a phone call.