Need a Second Chance? Now’s the Time to Apply For a Pardon in Pennsylvania

If you or a loved one has a past criminal conviction, you understand that when you have a record you never truly get a second-chance. No matter how long ago it occurred or how much you have grown since, many people will judge you based solely on your worst mistake. As a result, you lose out on opportunities to better your life and the lives of those around you. For people stuck in this difficult position, Pennsylvania’s pardon process provides a path to relief.

For those who are not familiar, a pardon is complete forgiveness for a past conviction. This official act of forgiveness restores any rights that were lost as a result of a conviction. That includes the right to have the record expunged. Only the governor can grant a pardon. Before a pardon application reaches the governor, it must receive the approval of the Board of Pardons. For most people, the pardon process takes around 18-24 months to complete. That sounds like a lot of work, and it is. However, applicants are more likely to receive a pardon than you may imagine.

There’s Never Been a Better Time to Apply for a Pardon in Pennsylvania

Many people think their chances of receiving a pardon are a long-shot, but that is not necessarily the case. Statistics provided by the Board of Pardons suggest more than half of those who successfully submit an application ultimately receive a pardon. For comparison, five years ago in 2015, the likelihood of receiving a pardon was closer to 1 in 5. So what has changed in over the past 5 years to make the pardon process a more realistic path to a clean slate?

For starters, there has been a major shift in public opinion. With the onset of the most recent opioid epidemic, the general public is now more aware of the need for real second chances. People have started to recognize the harmful effects of excluding everyone with a record from opportunities to meaningfully contribute in our communities. We have realized how unproductive and unfair it is to continue to punish people after they’ve served their sentences, which most of the time included only probation.

Our elected officials have responded. In Pennsylvania, it has led to the passage of laws like Clean Slate and Philadelphia’s “Ban the Box” ordinance. It has also led to changes within the Board of Pardons.

Changes to the Pennsylvania Pardon Process

The Lieutenant Governor is the Chair of the Board of Pardons in Pennsylvania. Since his election in 2019, current Lt. Gov. John Fetterman has made it a priority to turn the pardon process into a real opportunity for a second chance. First, he hired Brandon Flood as the Secretary of the Board. This was significant, because Sec. Flood has received a pardon himself. Having been a pardon applicant, he personally understands the difficulties applicants faced when seeking a second chance.

Led by Sec. Flood and Lt. Gov. Fetterman, the Board has focused on making the Pennsylvania pardon process simpler and more accessible. First, they removed all of the fees associated with filing an application. Second, they began requiring less paperwork from applicants. Third, they streamlined the application and its instructions to make it easier to complete and submit. Finally, they created an expedited pardon process for certain marijuana related convictions. This expedited process will fast-track the process for those seeking relief from these low level marijuana offenses.

Time is Ticking

While nothing has been announced, I’d be willing to wager that more pardon reform is on the horizon. Second chances are a major focus for Lt. Gov. Fetterman, and the pardon process could still use plenty of reform. Additionally, there are a number of organizations advocating for additional reform. However, this open attitude to pardons is not likely to last forever.

Decisions on whether to grant a pardon are ultimately up to the subjective judgment of the Governor. This means the likelihood of receiving a pardon is largely dependent upon who is in office. So while recent years have seen a shift towards greater access to pardons, that may not continue with the next administration. The current administration has shown a willingness to use the pardon process to give people second chances. There’s no guarantee that the next administration, which will take office in January 2023, will have the same approach. So if it may take 2 years to complete the pardon process, now is the time to apply.

If you or a loved one is considering seeking a second chance through the pardon process, M. Zane {+} Associates is ready to assist. Our founder and managing attorney has helped hundreds of people gain freedom from the stigma of a criminal record. We combine our in-depth knowledge of the pardon process with our compassion for people to create an unmatched client experience. Give us a call at 267-475-7052 to learn how we can help you.