How to Get a Felony Pardon?

Despite its name, the justice system is not always fair. At times it can seem like that the penalties given are not in line with the crime. These views are however often held in hindsight.

After serving out a sentence, it is, however, possible to secure a pardon. This is one type of relief offered by both the state and federal systems. This relief can be a salve for those that feel their penalty did not fit the crime.

So for those that have finished their sentences, the question is: How to get a felony pardon?

How to Get a Felony Pardon?

More on this later. Let’s first consider why a felon would pursue this course.

These kinds of reliefs help felons recover some rights. They can also provide chances for improved quality of life.

Felons are often subject to bias that can badly affect their comfort. Most notably is their ability to find good jobs and decent housing.

Many people hold a dark view of felons and will be unfair to them. Employers and landlords tend to have the major impact. These reliefs provide a means by which to legally force a change that benefits felons.

It does not absolve them of the crime committed. But it does try to put an end to the penalties suffered that can linger unabated.

The process is a tough one. There is no appeal to a higher body once a decision is made. But before we get into that, let’s first define the term pardon.

What Is a Pardon

A pardon is a legal act of forgiveness for the crime committed. While it does not absolve them of the crime, it removes any leftover penalties. It also nullifies any new or further prosecution of the person for the same crime.

Pardons can be given to persons that have already done their sentences. They can however also be granted to those still in prison. This is often done when there are doubts as to the fairness of the trial.

Applicants are however to accept responsibility for the crime. Those that still deny having committed the crime cannot be eligible for a pardon.

When granted, pardons strike the convictions from the person’s criminal records. However, depending on the jurisdiction, it does not automatically mean the record will be expunged.

The person is still expected to be treated as innocent. And that the crime never occurred. This relief can help to reduce social stigma of criminal pasts.

Pardons can also be granted to those that have long been released from prison system supervision. If deemed suitably rehabilitated, this relief may be granted. This is more so when they have made ample contributions to society since their release.

It can also be granted on humanitarian grounds. For instance, if the person or prisoner is suffering a terminal illness. This is termed a compassionate release.

There are typically two types of pardons. Let’s consider them below.

What Is a Federal Pardon?

A federal pardon is granted to offenders convicted in federal court. As the head of the federal government, the president is the only person that can grant such pardons.

This authority comes from the U.S. Constitution Article II, Section 2. This law gives the president the power to grant pardons for federal crimes. The only exception being pardons for impeached officials.

Federal pardon requests can be quite many. As such it can take a long time before a decision is made.

These pardons are submitted through the Department of Justice. Federal pardons can only be applied for no less than five years after release from prison.

What Is a State Pardon?

As the name suggests, state pardons are applied to state prosecuted crimes. The power to grant state pardons rests with the governor.

In many states, these applications are submitted through the state parole board. They review the application and make recommendations. These are then passed on to the governor to make the final decision.

It is noteworthy that even with a federal pardon, state aid may be needed to restore civil rights.

Once pardon decisions are made, a felon cannot usually appeal this decision. The decisions rests totally in the hands of the governor. The only exception is if the pardon involves illegal conditions that a court may review.

In some states, the law may permit pardon decisions to be made by a pardon board. The board members are often selected by the governor.

Their decisions also do not have to always be unanimous. Simple majority decisions can be adequate.

When considering pursuing a state pardon, it is good to seek further aid to learn what the process is. This is because state constitutions can vary on how this works.

Before we go on, you should know that pardons can also vary based on the extent.

Types of Pardons

How to Get a Felony Pardon Type

This is another way pardons can be classed.

  • Full – A full pardon provides unconditional forgiveness of the felon and relief from all the penalties of that crime.
  • Partial – A partial pardon provides only some relief from the penalties.
  • Absolute – This is granted without any conditions being set.
  • Conditional – This requires the offender to perform some action before the pardon can take effect. An example is those that are required to assist police by giving evidence that will solve a crime.

The conditions may also apply after the pardon is granted. For instance, if the offender commits another crime the offer may be nullified.

Before we get to how to go about applying for a pardon, let’s consider other options.

Alternatives to A Pardon

Another form of relief for convicts is expungement. When a criminal record is expunged, its record is removed. It is a process that instructs courts to treat a conviction like it never took place.

This relief is also helpful for those strained with no jobs and poor housing. When a background check is run, it does not produce any report on the crimes expunged.

Clemency is another form of relief that provides leniency. The conviction is not removed from an offender’s record. Instead, the person gets a lesser penalty.

An example of clemency is when a governor commutes a death sentence to life imprisonment. This way the conviction stands but the penalty is reduced. This is also referred to as commutation.

Another form of clemency is a reprieve. This is whereby a sentence is suspended until proof can be reviewed that may result in a reduction in sentence.

Pardons are also considered a type of clemency.

In all these types of relief, it is vital to get legal counsel to assist. Because of the varied rules that can be met, having someone skilled can be useful. You can also be advised on what exact relief you stand the best chance of securing.

The Procedure to Get a Pardon

At the federal level, it is required that felons wait at least 5 years after release to apply. This period provides offenders the chance to prove that they are fully reformed. What they do during this period will count towards the Department of Justice’s recommendations and final decisions.

For state cases, the waiting period may vary based on jurisdiction.

All pardon requests must be submitted in writing. Petitions to the DOJ are best submitted electronically as regular mail takes longer. The processing of hard copy submissions may also take time.

Note that offenders appealing their convictions may not apply for pardons. They will be expected to admit to their offense and take responsibility. A pardon request would have to wait until any pending litigation is solved.

In the application, the offender must give reasons why they should be considered for a felony pardon. The offender must offer evidence of what benefits he/she will gain from this pardon. And how society also benefits.

You will also be required to list any financial obligations and other legal violations, including traffic offenses. Federal applications are forwarded through the DOJ that gives a recommendation.

The president will make the final decision and can choose whether or not to abide by the recommendations made. Decisions made are final with no recourse for appeal.

As said, for state pardons the laws can vary greatly depending on location. In many cases, there is a pardon board.

The law may grant the board the right to make the decision. Or, make a recommendation to the governor.

Pardons can take a few months to several years to be decided on. It is vital to maintain good conduct as the review process is very thorough. Any improprieties may lead to a denial of your pardon and even other penalties.

Who Qualifies to Receive a Pardon?

How to Get a Felony Pardon Who

As said, federal cases require a 5 year wait period from the time of release from prison. It is also vital that during this period, the offender does not commit any other crime.

State cases may vary the waiting period and require full completion of sentencing, not just release. This means felons would have to start counting from when their parole ends.

Applicants are expected to prove that they are fully rehabilitated and contributing members of society. 3 character references should be attached to the federal application. They can only be non-relations.

Proving that one has successfully reintegrated back into society is vital. This can be done through evidence of community work. Good work history and achieving academic feats can also help.

Proof of exemplary behavior since the time of conviction is what most states consider.

Certain offenses may not qualify for a pardon. This usually impeachment cases at federal level. Some states also exclude treason charges.

Benefits of A Pardon

As mentioned, a pardon can be a big help in helping find a job and decent housing. Without the stigma of criminal past, employers and landlords are less likely to be biased.

Having better access to good jobs allows an ex-con to more easily provide for his family. It also means better chances of career growth and higher earnings.

Better housing also means good security. A lot of housing for felons is not well maintained. They are also often heavily populated with other criminals.

This does not make for a conducive setting for families. It can also increase the risk of recidivism. Finding decent housing can help encourage healthier ties in the community.

With the restoration of civil rights, felons can return to a normal pattern of living. They can vote when the time comes, buy a gun for safety, and seek to hold public office.

Having a criminal record can often lead to denial of entry to many countries. With a pardon there is less restrictions, allowing you to travel more freely.

It can also open up more professional prospects. With a pardon, one can more easily pursue professional licenses in various fields. A criminal past can often lead to denial of licenses due to integrity concerns.

For immigrants, a pardon on a deportable offense can reduce the risk of getting deported from the U.S.


Pardons can be a good way to secure relief from a criminal past. They can, however, be very difficult to secure. Different presidents and governors have had different attitudes towards this relief.

You may want to look into the current leadership to learn what chances you have of securing a pardon. Also keep in mind that the volume of applications for federal pardons is much larger, thus making for a longer process.

Most pardons are also granted to non-violent offenses. Violent offenders may find it more difficult to secure a pardon.

Consult legal counsel with experience in such clemencies to figure out which option best suits your circumstances.

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