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.
Pardons and expungements are treated differently in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Unlike a pardon, expungements seal a criminal record and allow the person whose record is being expunged to treat the conviction as if it never existed.
A pardon, on the other hand, does not erase or seal the criminal record. Instead, it constitutes forgiveness on the part of the state through a process called “executive clemency.” Executive clemency is where the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons makes a recommendation to the Governor. The Governor has the ultimate decision on whether to grant or deny a pardon recommendation. If the pardon is granted and the criminal offense is eligible under Pennsylvania law, the person receiving the pardon will still have to go through the process of expungement in order to have the record sealed.
The pardon process in Pennsylvania is a lengthy one and entails several steps.
Step 1: The Application
The first step toward receiving a pardon begins with the application. Filing an application for a pardon requires quite a bit of preparation and planning, and 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 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 Should you fail to comply with the agent, your application will be withdrawn before it even gets to the Board of Pardons for review.
In addition to the Board of Probation and Parole, the Board of Pardons will also notify the District Attorney in the county where the criminal conviction was obtained, as well as the President Judge in that county. If the applicant is incarcerated, the Department of Corrections will also be notified.
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
- 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. Each applicant will have 15 minutes—and 15 minutes only—to present their case. The process for the presentation will proceed in this order:
- Applicant’s presentation
- Witnesses who wish to speak in support of the application for clemency
- Witnesses who wish to speak against the application for clemency
Step 5: The Decision
Members of the 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 votes in favor of clemency, a recommendation from the Board will be sent to the Governor.
Step 6: 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.
How Long Does the Pardon Process Take in Pennsylvania?
It can take up to three years from the time an application is submitted for the Board of Pardons to review it. 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. The Governor has no constitutionally mandated time frame within which he must make his decision.