Four Questions to Ask Your Lawyer When Filing for a Pardon

1. What, exactly, is a pardon and who has the power to grant a pardon?

A pardon is an official declaration that some previous criminal act by an individual has been “forgiven.” Pardons are one specific action of the broader power of “executive clemency,” which includes acts such as commutation of a sentence and the granting of a conditional or partial pardon. You can click here to learn more information on pardons as an area of private law practice.

By law, only the President of the United States has the authority to grant pardons for those who were convicted of federal crimes. Although the President has the final authority to approve or deny a pardon request, he almost always directs such requests to the Office of the Pardon Attorney at the Department of Justice for investigation.

If a conviction was for a state or territorial offense, the governor of that state or territory has essentially the same powers as the President. In some states the governor may delegate such decisions to a state agency such as a “Pardons and Paroles Board” even though the governor retains the ability to approve or reject the board’s recommendation.

2. How long does it take before a pardon is approved?

The time frame regarding a pardon request varies from state to state, but usually takes about a year from the date of filing the request. Federal pardon requests, since they are investigated by the Department of Justice, have been known to take several years before submission to the President.

3. Can you guarantee that my request for a pardon will be approved?

No ethical attorney can make such a guarantee! An attorney can only offer an opinion on the probability of a successful request based on that attorney’s experience with similar cases.

4. Are there any disadvantages to seeking a pardon versus some other form of executive clemency?

The major “problem” that concerns many petitioners is that by accepting a pardon an individual is making an admission of guilt by someone who has previously asserted their innocence of a particular charge. The logic behind this concern is that since a pardon “forgives” a crime and that, since an innocent man has no need of a pardon, accepting a pardon is therefore an admission of guilt. An additional factor to consider is that in some states a pardon cannot erase orders that a defendant must pay restitution to the victims of the crime for which a pardon may be granted.

A pardon will not remove a conviction from your criminal record. That record will always exist even though the granting of a pardon for a conviction will also be entered on your record. If your goal is to clear your record, other options such as expungement of a particular conviction or sealing of your record may be available to you.

In those states that allow expungement, such requests are usually made to the court that imposed sentence for the original conviction. If an expungement request is approved, all records pertaining to an individual’s arrest, arraignment, trial, and conviction are destroyed by order of the court. In effect, the previous arrest and conviction ceases to exist.

In a sealing of a record, the court orders that the record of an arrest and conviction are removed from examination except by the permission of the court. This differs from expungement of a record in that the record still exists rather than being destroyed. Interestingly, both expungement and sealing allow a person to state that they do not have criminal record without fear of committing perjury.
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