If you have been convicted of crime, you may not be eligible for an expungement. If so, you need a pardon to clear your good name and your record. Contact the pardon lawyers at The Zeiger Firm for a free consultation on a Pardon for a Pennsylvania conviction, or for a Federal Presidential Pardon for a federal conviction.
The attorneys at The Zeiger Firm have experience with the pardon process and can help you apply for a pardon. The process entails writing a pardon application, compiling all of the necessary attachments to your application, and preparing you for and attending your hearing. If we successfully obtain a pardon, we can also help you expunge the original arrest and conviction from your records. Whether you need a Pennsylvania Pardon or a Federal Presidential Pardon, contact us now for a free consultation.
The Pardon Process
In state court, a pardon is an act of clemency by the Governor, forgiving a person of his or her crime or crimes. A pardon restores all rights and privileges forfeited by the individual. At The Zeiger Firm, we understand the laws, rules and procedures involved in the pardon process and how to advocate effectively on your behalf.
The pardon process begins with an application to the Board of Pardons, which we will help you prepare. After the Board receives your application, an investigation begins, which includes consideration of the facts surrounding your conviction(s) and an interview. The Board then will conduct a “merit review” of your application. Your “merit review” will consider factors such as: time elapsed since the crime(s); compliance with court requirements; positive changes in your life; specific need for the pardon; and impact of the offense on the victim(s).
Following the “merit review,” the Board will vote to “approve” your application. If your application is approved, you will have a public hearing. At the hearing, you will present your full story to the Board. Should the Board deem it appropriate, it may then recommend your application to the Governor, who will grant or deny your pardon.
From the initial pardon application through the Governor’s decision, the Philadelphia criminal lawyers at The Zeiger Firm will carefully guide you through each step of the complex pardon process. We represent our clients zealously, never forgetting that our attorneys and staff must form a team with our clients and their families to assure the best possible outcome.
If you need advice or help with a federal pardon, whether it’s with amnesty, clemency, commutation, remission, respite, reprieve, sealing, or any other Federal Presidential Pardon issue, contact us now to get started.
When you need a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney to pursue a pardon on your behalf, contact The Zeiger Firm. We represent every client zealously in order to obtain the best results possible in each case. To arrange a consultation, please give us a call at 215-546-0340 or send us an email via the form below.
How a Conviction Can Affect Your Life
Many people associate criminal convictions with prison sentences, fines, restitution, probation, and other court-ordered penalties. While these penalties can certainly be serious, having convictions on your criminal record can have many additional consequences that can persist for years or even the rest of your life. The following are some of the collateral consequences that may follow a criminal conviction.
- Education – Colleges and other higher education programs have strict application processes and are often selective about who they allow to attend their institutions. Having a mark on your criminal record can certainly go against your favor and can often result in a denial of admission. If you are in school when a conviction occurs, the school may take disciplinary action against you, which can include expulsion or revocation of scholarships. Some criminal convictions, such as drug-related offenses, can disqualify you from receiving federal financial aid, which may prohibit your ability to afford higher education. Being disqualified from such an educational program may then limit your employment opportunities for years to come.
- Employment – Employers tend to gather information about past criminal convictions before they hire an applicant. Often, a job application will include questions multiple questions regarding any criminal arrests and convictions, and an employer may also conduct a background check to discover any undisclosed record. Not surprisingly, many companies avoid hiring convicted offenders and may even have policies prohibiting such hires. For this reason, landing a job may be increasingly difficult if you have a conviction on your record.
- Disqualification – Furthermore, convictions for specific offenses can disqualify you from working in specific professions. Someone convicted of domestic assault can be ineligible to work as a caretaker, in healthcare, or in teaching jobs. A person convicted of fraud or white collar crimes can be disqualified from working in the financial sector. A DUI conviction can cause you to lose a job that requires you to drive or can result in the loss of a commercial driver’s license. These are only some of many ways that a conviction can hinder your employment and future prospects.
- Housing – If you rent your housing, a landlord will often conduct a background check. Landlords commonly do not want to rent units to people with certain convictions – such as drug or financial offenses – or who have any convictions at all. If you are not in a position to purchase real estate, a conviction can make it quite difficult to find a place to live.
- Immigration status – Having a criminal conviction on your record can affect the immigration status of non-citizens, and result in being taken into custody and having removal or deportation proceedings initiated against you. The focus of these immigration cases used to be on individuals with specific criminal convictions known as “crimes of moral turpitude.” However, in recent years, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has used any criminal conviction as justification for arresting and deporting non-citizens.
- Consequences of a plea – Criminal convictions pose an additional issue for non-citizens. Criminal defense attorneys must inform non-citizen clients about the possible consequences of pleading guilty or being convicted. For example, accepting a plea deal may result in you remaining in custody and being deported instead of being placed on probation or supervised release. Despite this requirement, many people live in the United States with their immigration status threatened due to having a criminal record. For U.S. citizens, having convictions—even for driving under the influence—can prevent you from entering Canada or certain other countries.
- Professional licenses – Many professions require you to have a state-issued license. These include lawyers, doctors, nurses, accountants, and more. If you have convictions on your record, it can make it difficult to get approved for a license and if you are already licensed, you often need to report the conviction to the state licensing board. This can result in the loss of your license and, therefore, your livelihood.
- Sex offender registry – The law requires offenders with specific sex-related convictions to register with the state police for a period of time or for the rest of their lives. This registry publishes the names, addresses, personal information, and convictions of offenders on a publically-accessible and searchable website. Being a registered sex offender can have many adverse effects on your professional and personal life, as well as affecting where you are allowed to live.
These are only some examples of the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction. Others can include disqualification from owning a firearm, loss of your voting rights, loss of public benefits, and more. While a jail sentence or probation period may end, collateral consequences may persist for years to come. Often, the only way to get relief from these ongoing reminders of your conviction is to have the conviction expunged from your record or pardoned.
Because of the effects of a conviction, obtaining a pardon can often change your life for the better in many ways. If you would like more information on seeking an expungement or pardon, please do not hesitate to contact the legal team at The Zeiger Firm today for a consultation.
Frequently Asked Questions about Pardons in Pennsylvania
Getting a pardon can provide many benefits as it can eliminate the collateral consequences of a conviction and clear your name. The following are some frequently asked questions about pardons and brief explanations. If you would like to get information regarding your specific situation, please schedule a meeting with our criminal defense law firm.
What is a pardon?
A pardon comes from the Governor of Pennsylvania and clears a criminal conviction from your record. Because the expungement restrictions are so strict in Pennsylvania, obtaining a pardon is often the only option for offenders to have misdemeanor or felony convictions erased. While it can be difficult to receive a pardon, you have little to lose by applying for one, especially if your conviction is causing issues with your employment, housing, or other areas of your life. While applying for a pardon does require you to pay certain fees, they are often far less than the money you may be losing due to having a criminal record. The process is lengthy but it is worth it to try to obtain a clean record.
What does a pardon do?
If you are pardoned for a criminal offense, you can get your criminal record expunged. Therefore, a pardon effectively erases any crimes from your record, which frees you from any legal issues you experience as a result of your conviction. Your record and status will return to the state before you were ever arrested for the offense. All law enforcement agencies will be required to erase the conviction from your record and parties conducting background checks will not be able to see the erased conviction.
Having a clean record will restore your rights to possess firearms, vote, serve on juries, and receive public funds such as welfare benefits or student financial aid. Professional license boards, prospective employers, immigration officials, potential landlords, and similar parties will not be able to see that you had a previous conviction. You will be able to answer that you have no convictions on job, loan, and housing applications.
Who is eligible for a pardon?
If you have a criminal conviction, you are eligible to apply for a pardon, as there are no other specific criteria. Unfortunately, there are also no specific guidelines on who will receive a pardon and who will not. There are many different factors that are weighed when determining whether to grant a pardon and often, the totality of the circumstances will be considered. Factors that may be in your favor include having a relatively minor offense, having significant time that has passed since the offense, and having no subsequent criminal cases. However, there is no way to guarantee whether you will receive a pardon or not.
If your offense was minor, you may want to wait at least five years since your conviction and for serious offenses, you may want to wait ten years or more. This is not to say that people never receive pardons sooner and you should discuss your individual options with an attorney who can evaluate your situation.
How do I apply for a pardon?
While the process of applying for a pardon can be as simple as sending in an application, you should never think the process is “simple” if you want to maximize your chances of obtaining a pardon. The following are some steps in the pardon application process, though this process can differ from case to case:
- You can request a pardon application by sending a letter to the Board of Pardons (BOP). You must include the fee in the proper form for the application and a self-addressed and properly stamped envelope for them to send the application to you.
- Collect the information and documents that you will need to complete and send the application. This can include a report from the Pennsylvania State Police regarding your complete criminal history, as well as a passport photo and a certified copy of your driving record. You will need to know the date and place of every arrest, criminal charge, court and judge that presided over your case, conviction, sentence, and even citations you received.
- While it is not required, it can be wise to get letters of recommendation from reputable individuals in your life stating that you have made lasting changes in your behavior. You can also support your application with educational diplomas or degrees, awards, or other signs that you have made positive changes and are a productive member of society.
- Provide complete and accurate answers to all of the questions on the several-pages-long application, which includes employment information. You will also have to provide a detailed explanation of your criminal offense, your life since the conviction, and reasons to justify the pardon of your crime.
- Send in the correct number of copies of the application with the required fees and another self-addressed and posted envelope. While you can request to have the fee waived, know that the BOP considers your financial stability as part of its decision and inability to pay the fee may reflect poorly on your application.
- The answers to every question must be detailed, thorough, and accurate. When discussing your criminal offense(s), it is imperative for you to show a sense of responsibility for your prior misconduct, as well as a genuine demonstration of how you have changed. The Board will carefully review all of your answers and will be looking for specific signs that you deserve a pardon. It is always best to have the assistance of an attorney experienced with the pardon process when completing your application to ensure you have met all the requirements and present your application in the best possible light.
Even requesting the application and sending it in must be done in a very specific manner. Any mistakes or omissions can result in the Board simply sending your application back to you without consideration it. It is extremely helpful to have the help of an experienced attorney from the very beginning of this process.
What is a pardon investigation?
When the Board of Pardons receives a pardon application, it will launch an investigation. The BOP enlists help from agents of the Board of Probation and Parole for this stage of the process, and agents will thoroughly investigate the circumstances of your criminal offense compared with the information you provided on your application. As part of the investigation, the agents may request opinions or reports from the prosecuting attorney or presiding judge in your case.
This investigation also will include an interview with you by an investigating agent. This usually takes place at your home in order for the agent to observe your home environment and decide whether there are signs you are a responsible and productive society member. Some interview questions may address the following:
- If you live with anyone else and your relationship with them
- What has happened in your life in the time since your conviction
- Whether you participate in military service, religious groups, community service, or other acts that demonstrate your changes
- Your personal life, including your children and your relationships
- Your financial situation and responsibility, including your employment and debts
While many people may feel uncomfortable answering so many personal questions from a complete stranger, cooperating with the investigation is always a wise course of action. If you truly do not feel right answering a specific question, carefully and honestly explain your feelings and concerns instead of simply refusing to answer the question without explanation.
Once an agent has completed the investigation and interview, they will prepare a report of their findings regarding your character and conduct. They submit this report to the Board of Pardons, which will carefully review it to determine the merit of your application. If at least two of the five board members decide to approve your application, you can then move on to the next step of the process—the pardon hearing. If you do not get two votes, your application will be considered denied.
Again, it is important to realize that there are no minimum standards or eligibility criteria that will automatically mean that you will or will not be granted a hearing. The Board of Pardons can consider a wide range of factors and circumstances when deciding whether to push your application through to the next step of the process. The following are only some of the factors that may be considered:
- How much time has passed since the date you committed the offense?
- Did you comply with all orders and requirements set out by the court?
- Was there an impact on any victims of the crime?
- What is your specific reason or reasons for requesting a pardon?
- How have you changed your life and behavior for the better since your conviction?
How serious was the underlying offense?
Again, every application is closely reviewed based on its own specific facts with no specific guidelines for the Board’s decisions. Even if you meet all requirements and make a persuasive case, there is still a chance you will be denied a pardon or even a hearing. On the other hand, just because you made a mistake sometime during the application process does not mean that your application will automatically be denied.
What is the hearing process?
A pardon hearing allows you to appear and present your story of the crime and the years since the crime to the Board of Pardons. There are typically five board members present: the Lieutenant Governor, the Attorney General, a corrections expert, a victim representative, and a psychologist. Board members are allowed to ask you questions and you should always be prepared in case they do. A skilled attorney can ask you practice questions and help you prepare for the day of the interview.
You have the option to be represented by an attorney during the hearing, which is recommended as an attorney experienced with the pardon process will know how to present your best possible case. You can also bring other reputable people to speak about your positive life changes and why you deserve a pardon. You can also discuss in detail the problems you are experiencing due to your criminal conviction.
After the hearing, the Board will put your application to a public vote to decide whether or not it will recommend your application to the Governor for a pardon. Three of the five board members will need to vote for your application to continue. Failure to get three votes will constitute a denial of your application.
If at least three board members vote in favor of your application, it will move forward to the Governor’s desk. The Governor will then review the application personally and make the final decision regarding granting or denying your request for a pardon. The Governor may follow any recommendations of the BOP or may stray from those recommendations – whichever he sees fit.
If the Governor grants the pardon, he will send you a signed document stating your pardon. You can then begin the expungement process, which erases your conviction from your criminal record and allows you to move forward with your life without being hindered by a criminal conviction.
What if the BOP or Governor denies the application?
If you do not receive adequate votes to get to a hearing or to have your application recommended to the Governor, or if the Governor himself rejects the application, that application has finished its course. There are no options to appeal the decision and you will have a waiting period before you are able to submit another application and receive consideration. Waiting periods include:
- One year from the date of the first application denial
- Two years from the date of a subsequent denial
If the Governor approves the application, however, you can then go to the clerk of the court that heard your initial criminal case to request an expungement of your record. You will need to file the appropriate and complete petition with the court and wait for the court to order the expungement.
How long does it take to get a pardon?
Many, many people apply for pardon each year and it takes time to review each application. Therefore, the process can be lengthy and you will need patience while you wait to see if you will successfully obtain a pardon and a clean record. For example, it can take a couple of years before the board conducts its own merit review. If you are granted a hearing, it can be months before you actually sit in front of the board. Finally, if your application is submitted to the Governor, it can take another few months or a year for the Governor to make the final decision.
Because the application process for a pardon can take years and because there is another waiting period before you can apply again, it is helpful to discuss the right timing for your pardon application with your lawyer. If you apply too early, you may find yourself waiting years before you can submit a subsequent application. Again, there is no exact right time to submit an application but a lawyer can review the facts of your case and advise you on the most beneficial timing of an application.
Contact a Pennsylvania Law Firm for More Information
The criminal defense attorneys of The Zeiger Firm represent clients who are trying to get their criminal records expunged by applying for a pardon. We can help guide you through the pardon and expungement process and advocate for you to achieve the best resolution possible under the facts of your case. If you would like to discuss your options for a pardon and the application process, please contact our office online or call 215-546-0340 today.