How to Apply for a Pardon

Three Parts:Checking if You QualifyFilling out the PaperworkAttending a Hearing

If you have been convicted of a crime, you may seek to be pardoned. A pardon is a form of legal forgiveness that removes any penalties and punishments.[1] As a result, a person can regain the right to vote, run for office, serve on a jury, or own a firearm. In the United States, the power to pardon an offender is typically given to the Governor of a state (for state crimes) or to the President of the United States (for federal crimes). The pardon power is entirely discretionary; that is, the President or a Governor is not required to issue pardons.[2]

Part 1
Checking if You Qualify

  1. Image titled Prepare a Power of Attorney Step 12
    Meet with an attorney who specializes in post-conviction relief. Each state has its own qualifications and procedures for granting a pardon. Also, the federal government has its own requirements and procedures for those convicted of a federal crime. Only an experienced attorney can provide proper guidance.[3]
    • To find an experienced attorney, type “post-conviction relief attorney” and your city or county in a search engine. You might also want to contact your state bar association, which should run a referral system.
    • Legal aid organizations provide free or low-cost legal assistance to people in need. To find a legal aid organization near you, use this online Locator.
  2. Image titled Say Goodbye to Coworkers Step 3
    Discuss other post-conviction relief with your attorney. States offer many different kinds of post-conviction relief other than pardons. Some may be easier to get than pardons, and others may provide greater benefits. An expungement, for example, will allow you to not report the conviction on a job application.[4] By contrast, you must still report a conviction even if pardoned.
    • Commutation: If you are still in prison, you probably cannot be pardoned. You could, however, get your sentence reduced, sometimes to “time served.” With a commutation, a new sentence replaces the old one. However, you probably won’t get back your civil rights.[5]
    • Restoration of civil rights: some states may offer you the ability to have your civil rights restored without getting a pardon.[6] You will be able to vote, run for office, and serve on a jury. Some states, like Florida, will nevertheless still prevent you from owning a firearm.
  3. Image titled Be Calm Step 21
    Identify the varieties of pardons. Pardons often come in different varieties. Not every state will offer all of the following types of pardons. But these are the most common:[7]
    • Full pardon: absolves the person of the conviction and all attendant consequences.
    • Partial pardon: only relieves the person of some of the punishment or consequences.
    • Absolute pardon: granted without strings attached.
    • Conditional pardon: the person must fulfill some condition before the pardon takes effect. Also, some pardons could be conditioned on the person not committing another crime. If he does, then the pardon is withdrawn.
  4. Image titled Write a Grant Proposal Step 18
    Understand the eligibility requirements. Typically, states and the federal government require that a certain amount of time pass since the conviction or since the end of your sentence. For federal pardons, for example, there is a five year waiting period that begins upon release from confinement.[8] In Florida, you must wait 10 years after completion of the sentence and all conditions.[9]Generally speaking, other common requirements include:
    • Crime free since the end of the sentence. You should have a clean criminal record since the date of the sentence.[10]
    • No outstanding penalties or liabilities. In Florida, for example, you must have made good on all restitution and also cannot have more than $1,000 in outstanding penalties from any criminal conviction or traffic violation.[11]
  5. Image titled Develop Critical Thinking Skills Step 18
    Understand the criteria used to determine whether to grant a pardon. Pardons are not granted solely because sufficient time has passed and you have not committed additional crimes. Instead, the pardon will have to be in the public’s best interest. The factors considered include:[12]
    • Your post-conviction conduct, character, and reputation
    • The seriousness of the offense and how much time has passed
    • your acceptance of responsibility, remorse, and atonement
    • Your honesty throughout the process
    • Your need for relief

Part 2
Filling out the Paperwork

  1. Image titled Have a Good Job Interview Step 9
    Request an application. If you were convicted of a federal crime in federal court, then you will need to request an application from the Office of the Pardon Attorney. By contrast, if you were convicted of a state crime, in state court, then you need to contact either your Governor’s Office or a Pardon/Clemency Board.
    • The application forms may or may not be online. To check, type your state and “pardon” into a search engine. The Office of the Pardon Attorney has put PDF forms online, which may be accessed here.
    • The Michigan Office of Corrections has forms available at this website.
    • In California there are two different kinds of pardons: a Certificate of Rehabilitation and a Direct Pardon. Each has different requirements. The forms are available here and here, respectively.
    • Legal aid organizations also may have the forms. If you contact a legal aid organization, they may be able to look over your application and provide tips for how to make it stronger.
  2. Image titled Get Power of Attorney Step 8
    Gather necessary documents. To fill out the application, you also will need information about your criminal history (the name of the court, the date of sentencing, the day you started prison/probation, etc.)[13] You will probably need to get the following:
    • Your charging instrument (indictment, information, or warrant with supporting affidavit) for each conviction.[14]
    • All criminal records. You should contact the courts where you were convicted and seek a copy of your file. Alternately, you could get copies of your criminal records from your attorney.
    • Judicial opinions. If you appealed your conviction or sentence, you should either get a copy of the opinion (if unpublished) or get the citation for the published opinion.[15]
    • Letters from your employer and proof of employment.[16] You can show that you are living a productive life by showing that you have a stable job.
  3. Image titled Announce Your Retirement Step 8
    Complete the application. Provide all of the information requested and answer every question.[17] Some applications may also request that you provide documents as attachments.
    • Each state’s application invariably asks you to describe the crime. In your description, be sure to take responsibility for what you did. Do not minimize your involvement. A key factor in getting a pardon is your willingness to accept responsibility for your actions.
    • If the application is incomplete, it will be returned to you.[18] Double check to make sure you have provided all of the necessary information.
  4. Image titled Resign Gracefully Step 15
    Get character references. Virtually all pardon boards want character references. The federal government will want at least three primary references, though you can provide more if you want.[19] Your state will tell you how many references are required.
    • You may have to use specific forms provided by the Pardon Board.[20]
    • Restrictions often apply. For example, the federal government prevents you from using as a primary reference anyone related by blood or marriage.[21]
  5. Image titled Change Your Name in Texas Step 13
    Submit the application. After making a copy of your application for your records, you should mail it to the address provided.
    • In some states there is no application fee.[22] If there is a fee and you cannot afford it, ask about a potential fee waiver.
  6. Image titled Apply for Scholarships Step 13
    Wait. After receiving your application, it will be reviewed. Typically, the state will try to contact the victims of the crime, as well as the State Attorney’s Office and other relevant agencies.[23]
    • Because pardons are discretionary, you may not receive notification of a decision or be updated on its progress.[24] If you are awarded a pardon, or if you need to meet with a clemency or pardon board, then you will be notified.

Part 3
Attending a Hearing

  1. Image titled Apply for Scholarships Step 7
    Review your application materials. To prepare for the hearing, you should review your application, including your statement about your responsibility for the crime. Also review your character references, letters from employers, and anything else you submitted.
    • You should make additional copies and take them with you, in case the person conducting the hearing cannot locate their copies.
  2. Image titled Conduct Research Step 22
    Prepare a short statement. You may be provided an opportunity to make a short statement.[25] You should be prepared to make one just in case. Review the reasons why pardons are granted and tailor your remarks to them.
    • Be sure to address that you understand the seriousness of your crime and that you accept responsibility. Express remorse.
    • Explain how you have turned your life around: explain how important your work and community involvement is to you.
    • Explain why you want a pardon. For example, you want to feel like a full citizen who can participate in voting and serving on a jury.
  3. Image titled Get Child Support Step 20
    Dress appropriately. Try to look as professional as you can. Wear the most formal clothing that you have. For men, this means a suit with a dress shirt and tie or, at the least, khakis with a dress shirt and tie. For women, they should wear a full suit, dress pants and a blouse, or a conservative dress.[26]
    • Make sure the clothes fit well. Opt for conservative, dark colors (black, navy blue, brown).
    • Conceal any tattoos and avoid flashy jewelry.
  4. Image titled Change Your Name in Texas Step 12
    Attend the hearing. Depending on your state, the hearing could be before a judge or it could be before a Clemency Board. Regardless of who conducts the hearing, you should arrive early.[27]
    • You should also prepare for the victims of the crime and their families to be present, as well as someone from the prosecutor’s office. Victims may give testimony to the judge or board in your presence.[28]
  5. Image titled Get Child Support Step 22
    Answer questions. Expect to field many questions about the crime, your role in it, and your life today.[29] Answer honestly, as your candor is a critical part of the evaluation.
    • Use “Ma’am” and “Sir” when answering. Also do not get angry—always remain calm.[30]
    • Other people may be allowed to speak on your behalf at the hearing.[31] If you would like a character reference to speak for you, then you can ask them to attend.
  6. Image titled Apply for Child Support Step 13
    Receive your decision. After your hearing, the Clemency Board (or other board) will make a recommendation to the Governor. After the Governor makes a decision, you will be contacted.[32]


  • You should certainly seek legal help when applying for a pardon. Pardons are infrequently granted, and you need to put forward the strongest case that you can.

Sources and Citations

Show more... (29)

Article Info

Categories: Criminal and Penal Law Procedure | Law and Legislation