When you’re convicted of a crime, the resulting criminal record can haunt you for the rest of your life. A serious misdemeanor or felony conviction is a black mark that may show up on background checks when you apply for a job, a security clearance to do government work or a professional license. A conviction may prevent you from renting an apartment or a house, or from being admitted to a college or university. A conviction might even affect your custody of your children or your immigration status.
If you’re convicted of an offense, serve your sentence or fulfill the conditions of your alternative disposition, and then don’t get arrested again, Pennsylvania allows people convicted of crimes to obtain pardons and have a criminal conviction cleared from your record down the road. This process takes years, but it might be worth considering if the circumstances are right.
What is a Pardon?
A pardon is a process that can get your criminal conviction erased from your record. Unlike an expungement, which can be used only for very minor offenses, a pardon can remove a serious misdemeanor or felony from your record. A pardon is granted by the Governor, usually based on the recommendation of the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons following a fairly involved process of investigation and decision-making. Pardons are not easy to get, but can remove obstacles to getting a job, housing, a college degree, or a professional license after your conviction.
Who Can Get a Pardon?
Any person who has been convicted of a crime in Pennsylvania can apply for a pardon. Typically, your chances are better if you’ve committed only one minor offense more than five years ago, or a more serious offense more than 10 years ago. You’ll usually need to demonstrate that you’ve had a clean record since that offense in order to get a pardon.
How Do I Get a Pardon?
The process for getting a pardon is lengthy, complicated, and bureaucratic. It typically takes a few years from the time you file your application for a pardon until the Board of Pardons makes a recommendation whether you should receive a pardon. Generally, the steps in the process are:
- File an Application — You can request an application form from the Board of Pardons in Harrisburg. You’ll have to pay a fee to get the form. When you receive the form, it should provide instructions that include what documentation you’ll need to attach, such as your Pennsylvania criminal history and information about your conviction. You’ll need to fill out the application completely and send the application back to the Board of Pardons with a filing fee. If your application is deemed complete, the Board will file it a few months after receiving it.
- State Parole Agent Interview — As part of the process, a state parole agent will come to your home to interview you and assess whether you’re contributing responsibly to society. This usually happens a couple of years after you file your application for a pardon. After the interview, the agent writes a report for the Board.
- Board of Pardons Review — All of the materials gathered related to your pardon go to the five-member Board of Pardons for review. That includes your application and supporting documents, parole agent’s report, and may include opinions submitted by the judge and district attorney in the court where you were convicted. The purpose of the review is to decide whether you get a public hearing on your pardon application. It can take the board a year to decide whether to grant a hearing or deny your application for a pardon.
- Hearing — If you get a hearing, you have to go to Harrisburg to speak to the Board. You’re allowed to bring a lawyer and character witness, but you only get 15 minutes for your hearing, during which you’ll also have to answer questions asked by the Board.
- Board of Pardons Vote — The Board will then vote publicly whether to recommend your pardon. At least three members of the Board have to vote to recommend your pardon or else your application will be denied.
- Governor’s Decision — If the Board recommends your pardon, the recommendation is forwarded to the Governor. The Governor gets the ultimate decision about your pardon. Most often the Governor will follow the recommendation, but can decide to deny your pardon even if the Board has recommended that it be granted. It can take as long as a year for the Governor to decide on your pardon.
What Happens After I Get a Pardon?
If the Governor grants your pardon, then you get a signed document from the Governor’s office. You can use that document to petition the court where you were convicted for an expungement of your criminal record. Once a judge approves your expungement, the offense is erased from your record.
Do I Need a Lawyer to Get a Pardon?
There is no requirement that you hire a lawyer to help with your pardon application and hearing, but your chances of getting a pardon will improve if you have the assistance of a lawyer. An experienced Pittsburgh criminal attorney can ensure that your application is complete and use his or her understanding of the system and the process to help you put your best face forward during the parole agent interview and Board of Pardons hearing.