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How to Get a Felony Pardon

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Following a conviction and release from prison, some felons may believe that their conviction was unjust and want to receive relief from the penalties that come with it. This might be applying for a pardon.

Let’s take a look at this means and what is involved in this process.

In this article, we’ll cover the following:

  • What is a Pardon?
  • Federal vs. State Pardons
  • How To Get a Pardon For A Felony
  • Who Can Get a Felony Pardon?
  • Application Process
  • Effects of a Felony Pardon
  • Options Available For Felons


What is a Pardon?

A pardon is a type of clemency that forgives a crime without clearing a criminal record. It is reserved for those who believe their sentence was too harsh or not deserved for their circumstances. 

Any felon who believes he or she has paid their entire debt to society may wish to consider petitioning the government for a pardon. This may reduce the stigma that is often attached to a felony conviction.

Even if you are pardoned from your conviction, this will not expunge or erase the record of your conviction. In applying for a job or any other situation that requires reporting such information, you must still disclose your conviction if asked as part of a job application, for example.

Federal vs. State Pardons

There are two types of pardons: a federal or a state pardon. The type of pardon you may be eligible for depends on whether it was a state or federal offense.  

In the case of a federal pardon, the petition will be sent to the president of the United States. In the event of a state crime, the application will go to the governor of the state parole board for approval.

In receiving a federal pardon, you must realize that the loss of your civil rights are typically done at the state level. It may take state action to have them restored.

Receiving a federal pardon is more rigorous and takes longer than a state pardon.

How to Get a Pardon for a Felony

Let’s consider the process for getting a felony pardon.

First, felons must wait at least five years after the completion of their sentence in order to apply for a federal pardon. At that point, you may contact the federal government regarding a pardon.  

The five-year period serves as a determination as to whether you have lived a crime-free life since completing your sentence. The exact length of the waiting period for a state felony will depend on the individual state.

Here is the process involved in applying for a felony pardon.

In order to apply for a pardon, you must state the reason for requesting a felony pardon and you must disclose how the pardon will help you achieve that goal.  

You must provide evidence as to why it would be in the public’s best interest as well as your own to receive such a pardon. It will typically require documentation like a letter from the government for any licensing authorities that may be involved.

You must have a clear criminal record since the time of the initial conviction. Your personal background during this interim time will be very important.  

Also considered will be the nature, the seriousness, and how long ago the conviction occurred. Any hardship that you may have suffered as a result of conviction will also be important. 

It will help to include documentation of involvement in community services or charitable activities. You must also submit three letters of recommendation from character witnesses who are not part of your family. 

Who Can Get a Felony Pardon?

In order to get a felony pardon, you first of all must be convicted of a felony. After this, you must wait a period of at least five years before becoming eligible to apply for a pardon of a federal or state felony crime. This five-year period begins on the date of your release from incarceration.  

If you did not serve time for a crime, the waiting period begins on the date of your sentencing in court.  You must also have satisfied all terms of probation, parole, or supervised release before applying for clemency. 

Only federal criminal convictions may be pardoned by the president. The president cannot pardon a state criminal offense. If you have been convicted of a federal crime, information about your conviction may be obtained from the clerk of the federal court where you were convicted. 

If you were convicted of a state felony, you must obtain your records from the state court in the jurisdiction in which you were convicted. The waiting period for a state pardon may vary according to the state. You should seek legal counsel from an attorney to help in this and all cases related to a felony pardon.

Application Process

Now that we have helped you understand what a felony pardon is, let’s look at the steps in the application process.

You complete the application online to apply for a felony pardon. You may want to consult with an attorney in this process.   

You must list any bankruptcies, tax, or other financial obligations. This will include any civil lawsuit that you may be involved in. Also, you must state any violations of the law, including traffic violations that occurred and resulted in an arrest or conviction.

Your application will be sent to the president with a recommendation in the case of a federal pardon. The president will make a decision on the request for this clemency.

The power to grant the federal pardon is in the hands of the president. There will be no hearing on the pardon application by the department justice or anyone else in the White House. 

The president’s decision will be final with no appeal process allowed. The specific reasons for the president’s decision are not disclosed by the department of justice or anyone in the White House.  

In the event of a state felony pardon, the application will go to the governor of the state in which the conviction happened. 

Even if you have been pardoned of the offense, it can still be used against you if you commit another crime. In such an instance, it will be considered a repeat offense and will be subject to an even harsher sentence.

A pardon application can take one to two years to be acted on, depending on various factors, including:

  • Number of places you have lived
  • Number of convictions on your record
  • Where the conviction took place
  • Seriousness of the offense

It is essential to realize that the review that the pardon officials conduct will be quite thorough. You must be prepared for an inquiry that will take a detailed look at your personal background and current activities.

Do not make any false statements. This is considered dishonest and will result in a denial of your application. This may also subject you to criminal penalties of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Effects of a Felony Pardon

What effects will receiving a felony pardon have?

First, the conviction will not be erased, but your criminal record will show that you have been legally forgiven of the crime and do not have the same restrictions imposed for the future.  

Your felony conviction will still be in the public record and can be viewed by the public. You must still report a felony conviction in any situation that asks about prior criminal history.

The result will be to allow you to be able to vote and hold public office. You will also be able to own a firearm once again.  

The effects of a pardon are to restore such rights as:

  • Voting
  • Serving on injury
  • Holding public office
  • Bearing arms
  • Being admitted to a professional school
  • Taking the civil service exam
  • Getting a passport
  • Holding certain licenses

Getting a pardon will make it easier to find a job, obtain a loan, and buy a house. It will assist you in reestablishing your connection in your community. You will also have the satisfaction of knowing you have been successful in having the penalties for your felony removed from your record. 

Options Available For Felons

Getting a felony pardon is not the only way for felons to receive relief from the penalties and restrictions of a felony conviction.

There are other options available. Let’s look at a couple of these.


First let’s talk about expungement.

Expungement is the legal process in which the record of a criminal conviction is destroyed or sealed from the state or federal record. This process removes a conviction from your criminal record. An expungement instructs the court to treat a criminal conviction as if it had not occurred.

An expungement is initiated by a judge or a court rather than by a government official such as a governor or the president. It takes place at the state level. An expungement rarely happens at the federal level.

What Is Clemency?

Clemency is a general legal term referring to modifications made to a criminal sentence through the court. It is mercy for a conviction, granted by a governor in a state crime and the president for a federal crime.

There are three types of clemency: a reprieve, commutation, and a pardon.

A reprieve is to suspend a sentence while evidence is being considered that would reduce a sentence. For a death penalty case, it would be a suspension of the execution while essential evidence is being reviewed.

A commutation is to reduce a sentence. This would not void the conviction, however. An example of a commutation would be in a death penalty case in which the death sentence was commuted to life in prison.

A pardon is to forgive a crime and its penalty for someone that a governor or the president has decided that a convicted individual has paid his or her debt to society or is worthy of being forgiven for the crime.

So what do you think about this article about how to apply for a felony pardon? Have you or someone you know applied for a felony pardon? What was that like and what happened? Please tell us in the comments below.

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