June 28th, 2021

Criminal Pardons in PA

If you’re ready to move past your criminal record in PA, you have some options. Some crimes can be expunged, while those of a more serious nature require a criminal pardon. A pardon, also known as executive clemency, is a detailed process. Read on to learn more about it and how a criminal defense attorney can help you navigate it. 

What is a pardon and what does it do?

A pardon is total forgiveness for a crime, and allows the Courts, State Police, and FBI to expunge your record. Granted by the state’s Board of Pardons, this process is open and applicable to anyone convicted of a crime by a non-federal PA court. A sealed conviction is eligible to be pardoned as well. 

In addition to being relieved from the consequences of your crime, a pardon provides the following:

  • ability to answer “no” to having a criminal history on an application for employment, housing, education, etc.
  • right to serve on a jury or in the military
  • freedom to purchase and possess a firearm
  • capability to run for and hold public office
  • privilege to travel internationally

If you think a pardon is right for you, connecting with an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you prepare for the in-depth process. 

How long does the pardon process take?

On average, the PA pardon process takes approximately three years, starting with when an application is officially filed and ending with the applicant’s Merit Review Session. What other steps are involved? 

  • Fill out an application
  • Obtain court documents for the dockets for which you are requesting a pardon, which may include:
    • Criminal Complaint
    • Affidavit of Probable Cause
    • Indictment
    • Final Plea or Disposition
    • Sentencing Order
    • Proof of Payment of Fines, Court Costs and Restitution
  • Mail or deliver your application and documents to the PA Board of Pardons (see application for address, based on confined or non-confined status)

Please note: if more than seven years have passed since you were sentenced, no documents are required.

Gathering these documents may be cumbersome and if you overlook even one, it could hurt your chances of obtaining a pardon. Where you were sentenced – Common Pleas Court, County Court or by a Magisterial District Judge – will impact whom and how you contact for records. Consider working with an attorney to help ensure you have all paperwork in order, including a properly filled out application with well-framed responses. They are also skilled in obtaining letters of recommendation and character reference letters to help create a more compelling case for your pardon.

The pardon hearing process

Once your documents are received, the Board of Pardons will decide if a public hearing will be granted by voting (certain number of votes required for certain offenses) – if the required number of votes is not obtained, the process ends and you will not be pardoned. Again, having a criminal defense attorney help prepare your paperwork may help this process be more successful. 

If granted a hearing at the Supreme Court Courtroom in Harrisburg, you will be allowed 15 minutes to make a presentation, which can include testimony from you, your support (advocate, family member, attorney) and your victim or victim’s next of kin (if applicable), along with anyone who would like to speak in opposition of the application. Because your hearing is only 15 minutes, our firm strongly recommends having an attorney represent you in your pardon hearing, to help you craft a coherent and convincing narrative, as well as arrange testimonials. 

Following the hearing, a majority of the Board of Pardons must vote in favor of your pardon, after which your application will be forwarded to the PA Governor. A unanimous vote is required for a Life or Death sentence case. At his or her discretion, the Governor approves or disapproves pardons. Lastly, the Secretary of the Board notifies interested parties of the Governor’s decision.

Expedited program for some marijuana convictions

As noted, the PA pardon process can take three years; however, in 2019, the Expedited Program for Non-Violent Marijuana-Specific Convictions was established. On the program’s website, it is noted: 

While there certainly is no guarantee that applicants for this program will receive a favorable decision from the Board, it should be noted that there will be less of an emphasis on how recent the conviction is, and more of an emphasis on how compelling the applicant is at demonstrating how a pardon would improve their overall quality of life.

With this in mind, your criminal conviction may be eligible for this expedited pardon if it included: 

  • Possession of a small amount of marijuana for personal use;
  • Possession of a small amount of marijuana with the intent to distribute;
  • The distribution of a small amount of marijuana but not for sale;
  • (Paraphernalia related offenses) – Any marijuana-specific conviction relating to the possession with intent to use drug paraphernalia; the delivery of or possession with intent to deliver or manufacture with intent to deliver drug paraphernalia; or the unlawful advertisement/promotion of sale of drug paraphernalia;
  • Criminal conspiracy (relating to an underlying marijuana-specific offense)
  • Marijuana-related DUI’s incurred by lawful medical marijuana cardholders in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (Applicants would be required to produce proof that they were lawful medical marijuana cardholders at the time of their offense);
  • Any felony conviction for possession with the intent to deliver a controlled substance (marijuana only); and
  • Any marijuana-specific conviction that the Secretary of the Board of Pardons deems appropriate.

Expedited review applications will be within 18 months (or less) from the date submitted with the BOP office.

Let a criminal defense attorney help you obtain a pardon

While the application and filing fee for a PA pardon is free, there are many benefits to working with a criminal defense attorney. Additionally, incarcerated applicants must be represented by a private attorney, friend, family member, or a Pardons Case Specialist/Parole Manager.

If you determine the PA pardon process is right for you, please know meticulous research and documentation is required when seeking successful outcomes. Our criminal defense attorneys are well-versed in obtaining appropriate court paperwork. We can help ensure your complete criminal history is provided and you are represented well at your hearing. 


As a criminal defender, Robert Campbell helps his clients navigate a wide range of cases, including bail hearings and modifications, probation violations, assault charges, drug offense, DUIs, disorderly conduct and public intoxication, criminal trespassing, and traffic citations. Additionally, he assists with placement into Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) and Marijuana Diversion programs. He also supports those seeking expungement and pardons.