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Answers to FAQs on Federal Pardons from a Lawyer

By Spodek Law Group | October 20, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 30, 2023)

Last Updated on: 30th October 2023, 05:58 pm


Answers to FAQs on Federal Pardons from a Lawyer

Getting a federal pardon can be a complicated process full of legal jargon. As a lawyer who has helped folks through this, I wanted to answer some common questions in plain English so you can understand your options better.

What exactly is a federal pardon?

A federal pardon is when the President of the United States forgives someone for a federal crime they committed. It wipes the conviction from their record. A pardon doesn’t mean the person was innocent though – it just removes punishments like jail time or fines. The conviction still shows up on background checks too.

Who can get a federal pardon?

Anybody convicted of a federal crime can apply for a pardon. There’s no rule saying you have to wait a certain amount of time after the conviction. But in reality, its rare for recent convictions to get pardoned. The Office of the Pardon Attorney recommends waiting 5 years after finishing parole or probation before applying.

How do you apply for a federal pardon?

You start the process by filling out an application on the Department of Justice’s website. It asks for basic info about your conviction, employment history, etc. You’ll also need to write a personal statement explaining why you deserve the pardon. Plus gather letters of recommendation, copies of the indictment, and other documents.

The Pardon Attorney reviews each application individually. They check if you’ve done enough to make up for your crime before deciding whether to recommend approving or denying the pardon to the White House.

What are the criteria for getting a federal pardon?

There’s no straightforward “checklist” of criteria that guarantees a pardon. But factors that help include:

  • Accepting responsibility for your actions
  • Serving your sentence without issues
  • Having a clean record for a significant time
  • Contributing positively to society
  • Having a real need for the pardon (like a job license)

Letters of recommendation from respected people like employers or clergy can also increase your chances.

How long does the federal pardon process take?

There’s no set timeline, but expect the process to take at least 1-2 years. It can sometimes take up to 5 years for the Pardon Attorney to investigate your case and the White House to make a decision. The Office of the Pardon Attorney receives thousands of applications every year, so things tend to move slowly.

Can a federal pardon expunge your record?

No, a presidential pardon doesn’t expunge or erase the conviction from your record. The conviction will still show up on background checks. But the pardon prevents that conviction from being used to deny you rights or opportunities.

To get your record expunged, you need to file a separate petition with the court that convicted you. Some states make this easier than others.

Does a federal pardon restore your civil rights?

In most cases, yes. Federal pardons restore many civil rights lost with a conviction, like serving on a jury or voting. But some states restrict things like gun ownership even with a pardon. Check your state laws to understand exactly what rights are restored.

Can you get a federal pardon for a state conviction?

Nope, only the state’s Governor can pardon state convictions. The President can only pardon federal crimes like tax evasion, mail fraud, or crimes in Washington D.C. You’d have to petition the state for a pardon on state convictions.

How much does it cost to apply for a federal pardon?

There’s no fee to apply for a presidential pardon. But applicants are responsible for costs like getting copies of court documents, fingerprints, and notarizing the application.

Do you need a lawyer to apply for a federal pardon?

Having a lawyer isn’t required, but it can help a lot. The pardon process has complicated legal rules and paperwork. An experienced attorney understands how to complete the application and make the strongest case on your behalf.

Lawyers have relationships with prosecutors and other officials too. Their advocacy can get your case proper attention. If you can afford a lawyer, its usually worth the investment.

If you get a federal pardon, are you innocent?

No, getting a pardon doesn’t mean you’re innocent. It just removes the punishments associated with the conviction. The pardon acknowledges you’ve rehabilitated yourself, but doesn’t change the fact that you were found guilty.

Can you get a pardon for a future conviction?

No, presidential pardons can only apply to past convictions, not future ones. There have been a few cases of “preemptive pardons” for crimes someone hadn’t been charged with yet. But the legality of this is questionable.

Are federal pardons public record?

Yes, the names of people granted pardons are published in the Federal Register. Anyone can request copies of a clemency petition too under the Freedom of Information Act. So expect the public and media to have access to your case.

Some advocates argue pardons should be confidential to avoid public stigma. But currently, everything is open record.

Can the President pardon himself?

There’s debate around this. The Constitution doesn’t explicitly prohibit self-pardons, but many argue it violates the principles of our democracy. The issue hasn’t been tested in court yet. Most legal experts expect a self-pardon would trigger massive backlash and even impeachment.


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