What Factors Are Considered by the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons?

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Jan 17, 2018 | 0 Comments

Knowledge is power, and when one's circumstances are made difficult by a Pennsylvania criminal record, understanding what information the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons will consider in evaluating a request for clemency is critical to success.

In that regard, when seeking information regarding the Pennsylvania pardon process, it is important to look to the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons for guidance as to what factors the Board deems most important in considering pardon or commutation request.  An experienced attorney will be able use this information in helping a potential applicant decide whether to apply for clemency in Pennsylvania.  An experienced attorney will also be able to use this information in pursuing a pardon on a client's behalf.

Are there eligibility requirements for a pardon in Pennsylvania?

An important consideration that people considering seeking a pardon or clemency must bear in mind is that neither the Pennsylvania Constitution nor the laws or regulations governing the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons establish minimum eligibility requirements in order to apply for executive clemency.  Also, Pennsylvania law does not establish a specific list of factors that the Board must consider in evaluating applications. 

As a result, each of the five Board of Pardons members is free to rely upon the information that he or she feels is most important both in deciding to grant a public hearing in Harrisburg and in deciding to recommend clemency to the Governor of Pennsylvania.

That being said, the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons nonetheless believes that it is helpful to clemency applicants and the public generally to provide a list of some of the factors that have been considered by the Board in the past in evaluating clemency applications.   In the regard, the following list is by no means exclusive, and is not applied by every Board member in every case.  Satisfaction of the criteria identified below does not entitle the applicant to clemency, nor does failure to satisfy the criteria automatically result in rejection of the application.  Rather, the Board of Pardons evaluates every application on a case-by-case basis to determine whether clemency is appropriate.

With the above considerations in mind, the following information will be helpful to people seeking a pardon in Pennsylvania:

Factors Considered in Pennsylvania Pardon Applications

  • How much time has elapsed since the commission of the crime(s)? Obviously, this factor, coupled with being crime free after the offense, is one of the best indicators of whether the clemency applicant has been successfully rehabilitated. In addition, the more serious, or numerous, the crime(s), the greater the period of successful rehabilitation that the applicant should be able to demonstrate. 
  • Has the clemency applicant complied with all court requirements? The applicant should be able to demonstrate successful completion of all court-imposed requirements such as probation, parole, and payment of all fines and costs. If unsure of the latter, applicants should check with the County Clerk of Courts where the crime was prosecuted, and get receipts for any recent payments. 
  • Has the clemency applicant made positive changes to his/her life since the offense(s)? Successful rehabilitation may also be demonstrated by positive changes since the offense(s) in applicant's career, education, family or through community or volunteer service, particularly in areas that relate to the offense(s).
  • What is the specific need for clemency? The applicant should identify a specific need for clemency (for example a particular job that applicant cannot get, or some particular activity that he or she cannot participate in without clemency as opposed to the more general answers of “employment purposes” or “to put this behind me” that the Board of Pardons notes that applicants frequently use). Except in extraordinary circumstances, the Board does not view a pardon as an appropriate means of restoring any disability that has been imposed pursuant to a state law (for example, suspension of driver's license, revocation of professional or business licensure, etc.).  Rather, the Board generally defers to the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the means of restoration provided for in the law in question.
  • What is the impact on the victim(s) of the offense(s)? The Board of Pardons' regulations require that victims or next of kin be notified and given the opportunity to appear at the clemency hearing in Harrisburg or make a confidential submission in writing. Clemency applicants should be aware that victims or next of kin may be present and, in any event, will have their viewpoint considered by the Board.

Factors Considered in Commutation of Sentence Applications

  • Does the clemency applicant still have appeals pending in any court?   The Board of Pardons views clemency as an extraordinary remedy that should ordinarily be resorted to only after all legal remedies have been exhausted. 
  • Is the applicant eligible for parole or will he/she be eligible within a reasonable period of time? In most cases, parole is the more appropriate avenue for release by applicants eligible for parole. 
  • Has an appropriate period of incarceration been served based on the circumstances of the offense?
  • Has the clemency applicant maintained an appropriate conduct record for consideration of clemency? The Board of Pardons looks to the number of both serious and minor misconducts as a reliable indicator of the rehabilitation of the applicant.
  • Has the applicant had a successful work record and/or availed himself/herself of the programming opportunities for self-improvement that are available through the correctional facility? Again, the Board views these factors as reliable indicators of the rehabilitation of the applicant.
  • What is the impact on the victim(s) of the offense(s)? The Board of Pardons' regulations require that victims or next of kin be notified and given the opportunity to appear at the hearing in Harrisburg or make a confidential submission in writing. Applicants should be aware that victims or next of kin may be present and, in any event, will have their viewpoint considered by the Board.

Pennsylvania Pardon Attorney | Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney

Although seeking a pardon in Pennsylvania can be a difficult process, depending on the person's particular circumstances, being granted a pardon can offer relief that would otherwise be unavailable to a person with a criminal record.  Oour Criminal Law Team knows how to maximize the chances of success throughout the pardon process and we can also make a difficult process manageable.  Contact us today to learn how we can help.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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