If you have been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony, the ONLY way to get it taken off your criminal record (unless you are at least 70 years old) is by FIRST getting a pardon from the Governor and then getting an expungement from a Judge.
Exceptions: If you are 70 or older and have not been arrested for 10 years, you do not need to get a pardon first. Also, you do not need a pardon in order to remove a conviction for a summary offense. To remove a summary offense from your criminal record, all you need is a window of five years without any other arrests or convictions. Judges can do both of these things without a pardon.
A pardon means you have been forgiven by the government for the crime you committed. To get one, you have to go through the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons, and they have to recommend you to the Governor.
You can download the pardon application form and instructions FOR FREE here. You can also watch a video about the process here and read the Board’s guide to applying here.
There have been major changes to it since 2018, and it is much easier now:
- You do NOT have to pay any money to get the application form or to file it.
- You do NOT have to get the Access and Review report from the Pennsylvania State Police.
- You do NOT have to get the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) report.
You DO still need to:
- Get copies of court documents and a color photograph of yourself to send in with your application. All of this is explained further in the instructions attached with the pardon application.
- Get a copy of your complete history or arrests and convictions from the court. Due to changes from the new Clean Slate Law, your record on the UJS Portal may not be complete. You will need to go to your county court house and request a “secure court summary.”
There is no limit to the number of charges or convictions you can include for a pardon, and there is no limit on who can apply or how long you have to wait before applying. However, the Board of Pardons does want to see that you have changed since your last arrest or conviction. So, experienced lawyers recommend that you wait at least five years since you have completed your last sentence before applying for a pardon.
What is PLSE Doing?
- Creating a video library so you can hear from people who have gone through the pardon process themselves. Funded by a grant from the Thomas Skelton Harrison Foundation, the first 5 videos will be available on this website in January 2020, with others added as they become available.
- Developing PardonMe™: a web-based app that can help you prepare a first draft of your pardon application with guiding questions, helpful resources, and instructional videos.
- Holding community workshops on pardons. Visit this page to see when and where they are being held. Many are being taught by Wayne Jacobs, Founder of X-Offenders for Community Empowerment.
- Teaching community organizations about pardons so they can help you through the application process. Check here to see where there is a Pardon Hub near you.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What does the pardon process entail?
There are a few steps involved in the pardon process. First, you submit an application to the Board of Pardons. Afterwards, they will do an internal review and investigation. You may be contacted by the Office of Probation and Parole for an in-home interview so they can get to know you better. If you pass the internal review, you will be invited to Harrisburg, PA for a hearing with the Board of Pardons. Then, if your application is recommended, the Governor gives final approval. When approved, you can then file for an expungement to remove those charges from your record.
Q: How long does the pardon process take?
Currently, the full pardon process takes anywhere from 2-5 years from the time they receive your application until you have a hearing with the Board of Pardons. The process takes this long because you are asking the State of Pennsylvania for forgiveness of your criminal record and a full restoration of your rights, so the Board of Pardons is thorough in their review of applications.
Q: How many people get pardons?
It is not known what percentage of pardon applications are granted, but some statistics are available on the Board of Pardons website.
Q: Do I need a lawyer for a pardon?
No, you do not need a lawyer to file a pardon or during the public hearing in Harrisburg. Lawyers are great storytellers and can help you prepare your application.
Q: If I am not using a lawyer, what do I fill in on the form for my “representative”?
You do not need to have a “representative” on your application. You can just check the box that says “self” and submit the application. But, the Board does use your “representative” as a secondary contact, someone that they will call if they cannot reach you — like if you have mvoed or changed telephone numbers. You can list a friend or family member that you are close with as a “representative” for this purpose.
Q: What is the Board of Pardons looking to learn about me in the application?
The Board of Pardons wants to see three things in an application: 1) how you have changed since your last arrest or conviction (e.g., community service, volunteering, being a positive force in your community); 2) that you take full responsibility for your past; and 3) why you need a pardon. These are very important points to answer in your application, and if you are having a hard time coming up with examples, ask your friends and family to help!
Q: What if the conviction was not my fault or if I do not want to take full responsibility for what happened?
We understand that there are a number of factors at play that can result in your conviction. However, the pardon process is about forgiveness and a restoration of rights. It is not an opportunity to argue the details of the case. The Board of Pardons favors applications that take responsibility for their past.
Q: What if something changes after I have sent in my application — like if I move, remember something else, or have something new that I want the Board of Pardons to know about me?
All you have to do is write the Board of Pardons a letter and tell them what the new information is. Their contact information is on their website.
Q: What happens after I file an application?
The filed application is forwarded to the Board of Probation and Parole who conducts an investigation into the application. They will reach out to you to schedule an in-home interview as well to ask you some questions about your application. The applicant for a pardon must make themselves available for an interview in their home by a Parole Agent. Next, the pardon application is sent to the Board of Pardons, where 2 of the 5 Board members must vote to grant a hearing.
Hearings are held in Harrisburg. The hearings are open to the public and consist of the applicant’s presentation, followed by any speakers the applicant wants to bring in support of their application, and anyone who wants to speak in opposition to the application. If a majority of the Board votes in favor of the pardon, the application is then forwarded to the Governor who may grant or deny the petition at his or her discretion.
Q: My pardon was granted! Now what?
The Governor’s signing of a pardon does not end the process. To remove the pardoned offense from the applicant’s criminal record, an expungement must be filed by the applicant in the court where the conviction occurred. A copy of the pardon must be attached to the petition for expungement. If you have been pardoned and need an expungement, call our office at 267-519-5323 and we can help you with the expungement.
Q: Can PLSE help with my Pardon?
Currently, PLSE does not offer pardon services or help people individually with the application or representation in Harrisburg at the public hearing. However, PLSE is in the process on establishing Pardon Hubs across the city. Check back here in the fall to see if they open. You can read more about the pardon hubs here.