What’s the difference between pardons and expungements?

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Differences between expungements and pardonsAlthough the terms are frequently paired together, expungements and pardons are similar only in that they each seek to clear criminal charges and convictions from a person’s criminal history file.

  • Scope. Generally speaking, pardons can only be granted by the Governor (after a recommendation by the state Board of Pardons) and can apply either to individual summary, misdemeanor or felony offenses or an entire criminal history. Expungements, on the other hand, are limited in scope in that they are granted by the courts, but only apply to non-convictions, inaccurate records and summary offenses, and a separate petition must be filed for each item on the record.
  • Ease of Resolution. While expungements for qualified applicants are much easier to obtain, they only apply in specific instances. Pardons, meanwhile, can apply to virtually any criminal offense or group of offenses, but are much more difficult to obtain. An expungement can be resolved within a few weeks if the proper paperwork is in order, but a pardon takes at least three years just to be investigated and reviewed!
  • Process. Expungements are obtained with a simple court petition, and if you meet the qualifications outlined in the state statute, your record will be cleared. Pardons are much more circumstantial. An appearance before the 5-member Board of Pardons must be requested and if three of the five members find your story compelling enough, your case is then recommended for a pardon. The governor then can decide whether to issue the pardon.

For more information, please see these articles in Fine Living Lancaster:
The Problems of a Criminal Record
Criminal Records: What Can Be Cleared and When

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