When people think of pardons, they often think about the president or a governor pardoning someone facing the death penalty or some other serious offense. People don't often think about the millions of people out there - in Pennsylvania and across the country - who spend every day dealing with the effects of having a criminal conviction on their records.
That conviction - even years later - can prevent a person from finding work, getting a professional license, enlisting in the military, running for office, owning a firearm or traveling to another country. That is why Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Mike Stack has been hosting "Pathways to Pardons" town hall events to highlight the ways people can clear their records.
Who can benefit?
Anyone convicted for any summary, misdemeanor or felony offense is eligible to seek a pardon. According to the Pennsylvania Recovery Organizations Alliance, 70 percent of people seeking a pardon are doing so because of a drug conviction. A majority of applicants also have a substance abuse problem and say their convictions were a result of their addictions.
Seeking a pardon is a long process
If you wish to file for a pardon - total forgiveness - or a commutation - a reduction in punishment - you must file an application with the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons. It will likely take about three years from the time you file before you receive a hearing before the board.
If the board issues a favorable recommendation, the governor will then decide whether to grant the request.
What you can expect
If you think you want to seek a pardon, there are several things you must consider:
- Has time passed since your conviction?
- Did you pay all of your fines and comply with other requirements?
- Are you ready to have the details of your life made public?
- Are you clean and sober and taking steps to stay that way?
If a conviction is keeping you from living your life, you may want to consider consulting with a criminal defense attorney to learn about the process of seeking a pardon. It's also possible that you may qualify for an expungement or a Limited Access Order that seals your record from the public. These may be better options than going through the pardon process for some people. An attorney can help you determine what works best for you.