The Pardon Process in Pennsylvania
Posted by Queenette Echefu, MLK Fellow on August 17, 2020
A pardon is an order by the Governor which relieves one or all legal consequences of a conviction and restores the individual to a position as if they had never been convicted. This means a criminal record should no longer stand in the way of applying for a job, apartment, loan, or anything else one might need. Some people characterize a pardon as an act of forgiveness by the Governor. A Fast Track Pardon process is also available for non-violent marijuana convictions.
Applying for a Pardon
First, it is important to know what is on your criminal record. If you are unsure of your criminal history, we suggest you check the following websites: the public criminal record search that is run by the Administrative Office of the Pennsylvania Courts, https://ujsportal.pacourts.us/, and the Pennsylvania State Police, https://www.psp.pa.gov/. You can also contact the local Magisterial District Judge or the Court of Common Pleas in the respective district or county you were arrested and/or convicted. Depending on the case, they may be able to provide you with the case docket sheet.
The pardon application is free and can be obtained from the Board of Pardons website or by mail. The application will require the following documents from the Court of Common Pleas in the county where the conviction occurred: Criminal Complaint, Affidavit of Probable Cause, Criminal Information/Indictment, Final Plea or Verdict, Sentencing Order, Proof of Payment of Financial Obligations (fines, costs, restitution, supervision fees). Except for proof of payment, these items must be obtained from the Court of Common Pleas clerk and/or Magisterial District Judge Court Administrator. The Board of Pardons website provides samples of the court documents you need for the application as well as other information on obtaining the application: https://www.bop.pa.gov/Apply%20for%20Clemency/Pages/How-to-Obtain-an-Application.aspx.
For each conviction you want pardoned, on the application you should be able to answer the following: Who was involved in the crime? What did you do? When did you do it (the crime)? Where did you do it? Why did you do it? It is advised, but optional, to submit supporting documents such as certificates of educational programs, job training programs, community service, letters of support and/or letters of recommendation. These supporting documents are not required for the pardon application, but they do show one’s commitment to a better life, which the Board will be looking for. Any proof or statement of positive changes in your life since the conviction should be provided.
Although there is no set rule, it is recommended that an individual be free from any arrest or conviction for at least 5 years prior to filing an application. This timeframe may be longer for more serious crimes or for people with more extensive criminal histories. But the timeframe may be shorter depending on the crime. The Board uses the following factors in evaluating an individuals’ pardon application: how much time has elapsed since the commission of the crime(s); has the applicant successfully completed all court-imposed requirements such as probation, parole, and payment of all fines and costs; has the applicant made positive changes to his/her life since the offense(s); what is the applicant’s specific need for the pardon, e.g., a particular job that the applicant cannot get, or some particular activity that he/she cannot participate in without a pardon; and the impact the offense(s) has on the victim(s). Along with these factors, the Board wants to see an applicant take responsibility for their actions; acknowledge their mistakes; and provide an explanation regarding what they’ve done to change.
After you submit your application to the Board, you have a responsibility to update the Board with any change in your criminal status; address; contact information; and any other information that the Board will deem relevant. It’s also very important to avoid arrests and convictions, even traffic infractions, while the application is under review.
The pardon process can take approximately 2-3 years from submitting the application to being reviewed by the Governor, but it’s worth it.
Fast Track Pardons
The Board of Pardons has established a fast track review process for non-violent marijuana convictions. These differ from the regular pardons because the Board is less focused on the conviction itself but rather how a pardon would improve one’s quality of life.
Fast track pardons can be especially important for people trying to get back into the workforce after suffering a job loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, many people seeking new employment or experiencing a change in an employer’s policy may see the need for a fast track pardon. Check the Board of Pardons website for more information regarding the criminal convictions that are eligible for the Expedited Program and other circumstances where an individual would be ineligible to apply.
The Board of Pardons
The Board is composed of 5 members: the Lieutenant Governor, the Attorney General, a Corrections Expert, a Psychiatrist, and a Victim Representative. Once the investigative process is completed, the Board of Pardons will review the applicant’s file for a hearing. The Board will grant a hearing if two (2) of the five Board members approve. If a hearing is granted, all of the relevant parties and agencies will be notified of the time and place of the hearing. Hearings are held in the Supreme Court Courtroom in Harrisburg, PA.
After the public hearing, the Board meets and votes on your application. A majority of the Board must vote in favor of your application. If a majority does not vote in favor, then the application is denied, and therefore, it is not sent to the Governor. The Governor, at his discretion, may approve or disapprove any favorable recommendation submitted by the Board. Once your conviction is pardoned by the Governor, you can seek to file an expungement in the county court where the conviction occurred.
Although, the percentages can change, the Board of Pardons is currently recommending 87% of all pardon applications it hears.
You can contact the Board of Pardons at 717-787-2596 or check their website at https://www.bop.pa.gov for more information.
Applying for a pardon is not difficult. You must be willing to complete the application and be patient. Pro bono projects are also being developed, with the assistance of Tobey Oxholm, Executive Director at Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity (PLSE), to help with the pardon process. Successful applications can eventually help you overcome barriers and lead to a more fulfilling life.
Know Your Rights Flyer (when applying for a job with a criminal record)
Pardon Application Process for Public Cases
Pardon Application Process for Incarcerated Cases