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Eliminating a Criminal Record: The Pardon Process


In New Jersey, an executive pardon, if granted, may “erase” convictions from a criminal record. A pardon provides a way for people to clear their criminal record of convictions for crimes not eligible for expungement through the regular judicial expungement process.

What is a pardon?

An application for an executive pardon essentially asks the state’s highest ranking elected official (usually the governor) to “forgive” a crime, as if it never happened. For example, a person who has been pardoned may qualify for employment licenses for certain jobs (including hazmat, security officer, and airport security positions) where their previous convictions prevented them from getting these jobs. An executive pardon has the same benefits as expungement. It restores civil rights and provides a person with relief from all “legal disability.”

How do I know if my application will be granted?

Currently, there are no written rules about which specific crimes a governor may pardon. However, based on federal pardon rules, governors may consider the following factors:

  • The facts and circumstances of the offense;
  • The facts and circumstances of sentencing;
  • The facts and circumstances of trial, if there was a trial;
  • Whether you have followed all sentencing requirements and court-ordered obligations;
  • Whether you have been “rehabilitated”—as demonstrated by employment, education, programs, character references, and other evidence following the offense;
  • Your record of conviction before and after the offense; and
  • Other “good cause” reasons for granting such a request.

When will my application be decided?

There is no established time frame for processing pardon applications. As with the presidential pardon process, it is generally known that the governor makes decisions on pardon applications towards the end of his term. If Governor Corzine is elected to another term next year, it will presumably push back consideration of pending applications even further. As of late last year, there were 240 applications on file yet to be considered.

How do I start the process?

Make requests for a state pardon application in writing to Clemency Investigator, New Jersey State Parole Board, P.O. Box 862, Trenton, New Jersey 08625. Completed applications must be signed and acknowledged by a notary public.

What if I have a federal crime on my record?

For a federal offense, you must apply for a federal pardon. Federal pardons may only be granted by the President of the United States and are very rarely granted. Typically, fewer than 50 federal pardons are granted throughout the U.S. each year. Sitting presidents have granted approximately 10% of the applications received since 1977. The power to grant federal pardons is mandate by the Constitution. The President has the power to grant pardons for all crimes against the U.S. except impeachment.

When can I apply for a federal pardon?

Technically, a presidential pardon may be granted at any time after a crime is committed. Those requesting pardons must have already completed their sentences and demonstrated that they have been rehabilitated after release. There is a five-year waiting period after completion of sentence or release from confinement before you may apply for a federal pardon.

Where can I get an application and more information on federal pardons?

The federal pardon application is available at the United States Department of Justice Web site. It asks for a detailed account of the offense for which a pardon is sought. This includes facts related to the offense, criminal record before and after the offense was committed, references, employment history, substance abuse and mental health information, civil and financial information, charitable and community activities, and reasons for seeking a pardon.

For more information about the expungement process in New Jersey, see Clearing Your Record.

This article is from the May 2009 issue of Looking Out for Your Legal Rights®.


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