Colorado Pardon Information

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Authority

The Colorado Constitution says that the Governor “shall have power to grant reprieves, commutations and pardons after conviction, for all offenses” except in cases of treason and impeachment.[1] The Governor can place any conditions on a pardon as he deems proper, so long as the condition is not illegal, immoral, or impossible to perform.[2]

The Legislature can make laws regulating the manner in which a pardon shall be granted. The procedure the Legislature has enacted for the pardon process is found in Colorado Revised Statutes, Sections 16-17-101 and 16-17-102.

There is an Executive Clemency Advisory Board, which makes recommendations to the Governor on all pardon applications, except for in cases involving treason and impeachment.[3] This Board consists of 7 unpaid members who are appointed by the Governor.[3] In order to receive a recommendation for the pardon, at least 4 members of the Board must vote to recommend you for the pardon.[3]


Because the focus of this site is on pardons, we do not discuss reprieves, commutations, remission of fines and forfeitures, parole or other types of clemency that may be available in Colorado here. We also do not discuss judicial alternatives such as record expungement, record sealing, setting aside or dismissal of convictions. You should talk to an attorney if you think any of these alternative options may be more appropriate for you.


Eligibility

In order to even be recommended for a pardon by the Executive Clemency Advisory Board, you must have completed your sentence and demonstrate that you have fully been rehabilitated and re-integrated into society.[4] Additionally, generally 10 years must have passed since you completed your sentence.[3]

That means that you are not eligible for a pardon if you are currently incarcerated or are serving a life sentence. In such cases, you should apply for a commutation (shortening of your sentence) instead. Commutation is simply another form of clemency; the procedure for applying is essentially the same as a pardon.

The Governor can only grant a pardon for a Colorado State conviction.[3] If you want a pardon on a federal conviction, you must do that through the United States Department of Justice, Office of the Pardon Attorney (see our page on this site on federal pardons). If you want to pardon for an out-of-state conviction, you should find the appropriate page on this site dealing with pardons in that particular state.

The rule of thumb is if you are unsure whether you are eligible to apply for a pardon, you should go ahead and apply. There is no harm in doing so.

As in most states, a pardon (and other types of clemency) in Colorado is a privilege, not a right. It is an act of grace that the Governor can bestow at his discretion. Neither the Governor nor the Board is under any obligation to consider your application for clemency.[5]


Keep in mind that the eligibility and procedures for applying for a pardon can vary from one Governor to the next. We only discuss the requirements and procedures as they currently exist at the time of this writing. The requirements and procedures for applying may have change at the time you apply.

Also, keep in mind that, as in most other states, few pardons are granted in Colorado. Only a few pardons have been granted in recent years.[3] In 2011, 29 pardons were granted.[6]. Your chance of getting a pardon largely depends on your individual circumstances. Naturally, the older and less serious your conviction(s) are, and the more compelling your life story is, the higher your chance of getting a pardon. Your chance of getting a pardon also depends on who is serving as Governor at the time your application is reviewed; some Governors are more lenient than others in handing out pardons.

The Application Process

There are no fees to apply for a pardon in Colorado. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing the Governor’s office has not made its clemency/pardon application materials available for you to access on the Internet. In order to apply, you should contact the Governor’s office directly at 303-866-2471 to have an application sent to you. You can also write to:

Mark Noel
Executive Chambers
136 State Capitol
Denver, CO 80203-1792

If you are currently incarcerated and would like a commutation, you should contact your Case Manager to obtain an application on your behalf.

You will need to submit some or all of the following along with your application[7]:

  • A personal letter to the Governor (as of this writing, Governor Bill Ritter) stating the reasons why you need a pardon or commutation.
  • If you are currently incarcerated, a recent (within the last 90 days) Performance Review Summary (PRS).
  • An Admission Data Summary (ADS) and Diagnostic Summary.
  • Psychological and/or Psychiatric reports.
  • Reports of disciplinary actions and sanctions, if any.
  • The most recent time computation.
  • Your current FBI record of arrest.
  • Detainers, notification requests, and other important communications by law enforcement.
  • A pre-sentence investigation and/or offense report.
  • Reports of your adjustment to community placement, if any.
  • If medical/mental health problems exist, a current report that contains the diagnosis, prognosis, and recommendations.
  • Any other information (documents, exhibits, etc.) that you would like the Governor to consider along with your application.

If you are an inmate, your Case Manager can assist you in putting your application together. If you are not incarcerated (i.e., not an inmate), many of the above things will obviously not apply to you.

Keep in mind that the Governor receives a lot of applications and grants very few. Clemency is an extraordinary measure. You must make your application stand out. It is imperative that you write a detailed, genuine, personal statement to the Governor.

In your personal statement to the Governor, list all of the positive things that have occurred in your life, including educational achievements, new or stable employment, marriage and children, community involvement, charitable donations, law-abiding behavior, etc. Send copies of your college transcripts, high school diploma, marriage certificate, children’s birth certificates, military certificates awards and recognitions, and other documents that evidence your rehabilitation and positive character.

In addition, you should explain how a pardon/commutation would help you. Simply stating that you want to “clear your record” will not be enough. Explain how you have been passed over for employment opportunities because of your conviction. Explain how this has prevented you from obtaining decent employment to support you and/or your family. If you are facing deportation because of the conviction, which would separate you from your family, by all means mention it.

If you are pursuing a career in a field that requires you to have a clean record, send documents, letters, or other types of proof from a prospective employer stating this to be the case. Perhaps explain what your plans are in the event you are granted a pardon.

In writing your personal statement, keep in mind that the Governor will not be retrying you for the offense. Although you may want to explain the facts and circumstances of the crime from your perspective, avoid trying to make excuses for your crime and argue away your guilt. Whatever you feel about the crime, you had already been found guilty. The Governor is probably more interested in seeing your remorse for the crime, and your understanding of its effects on the victim and society, than anything else.

If possible, you should have friends, family members, a past or present employer, your minister, church members, co-workers, and others in your community write letters of recommendation for you. These letters should indicate to what extent the writer knows you and why he or she thinks you should be granted a pardon. The letters should also indicate the writer’s contact information for verification purposes. If possible, you should choose individuals who are not related to you, in order to avoid the appearance of bias.

Before the Governor approves your application, he must submit it to the current District Attorney in the district where you were convicted, to the judge who sentenced you, and to the prosecuting attorney who was involved in your case.[7] These individuals will be asked to comment on your application and provide other evidence they would like the Governor to consider.[7] Generally, they have 10 days to comment, unless the Governor gives them a longer period of time to comment.[7] The Governor’s office may also notify the victim(s) of your crime about your application and give him, her, or them an opportunity to comment.

There may or may not be a hearing/personal interview with the Executive Clemency Advisory Board and/or the Governor. If you are called in for a hearing/interview, you must not only attend but also look and act your best. Dress in the same way you would if you were going to court for a trial (this means, for mean, a suit and tie).

If allowed, have friends, family members, your boss, neighbors, co-workers and others in your community come along to show their support. The hearing/interview is an excellent opportunity to put a human face onto your application; it lets the Board/Governor not only see you in person but also see the amount of support you have in your community. You should be upfront and cooperative with the Board, the Governor, and their agents at all times.

You will ultimately be notified of the Governor’s decision. The Governor’s decision is final.[8] This means you cannot appeal to a court if you are not happy with decision. The whole process, from beginning to end, can take 6 months to a year to complete.[8]


The Effects

The Colorado Constitution takes away your right to vote while you are in prison for a felony conviction.[9] However, you automatically regain this right once you either receive a pardon or successfully complete your prison sentence (including any parole).[9] Therefore, if you are only interested in regaining your voting rights, and you are no longer serving your sentence, it is probably not necessary to apply for a pardon.

If you have been convicted of a felony anywhere, you are disqualified from holding public office in Colorado while you are confined in prison or on probation. However, with a few exceptions, this right is also automatically restored after you complete your sentence.[10] So, again, if you only interested in regaining this right, a pardon may not be necessary.

You do not lose your right to serve on a jury in Colorado because of a felony conviction, even if your other rights were take away and have not been restored.[11] A pardon therefore is not necessary if you only want to be a juror.

You do lose your right to possess a gun in Colorado if you have been convicted of a felony, even if it is a federal or out-of-state felony.[12] The Governor has the authority to restore your gun rights.[4] However, unless the pardon specifically says your gun rights are restored, you should not assume that they are. Ask for clarification from the Governor’s office at the time you receive your pardon. If having your gun rights restored is important to you, make sure you make this known during your application process.

Under federal law, if you have received a pardon from any state, the pardoned conviction cannot be used by federal authorities to prosecute you for “unlawful possession of a firearm” under federal law, unless the pardon specifically says you cannot possess a gun.[13] However, just because you cannot be prosecuted under federal law does not mean you cannot be prosecuted under State law. Some states have stricter gun laws than federal law. If regaining your gun rights is important to you, you should clearly indicate that desire on your pardon application.

Also, in most cases federal immigration authorities cannot rely solely on a conviction that has been pardoned in order to deport you from the country. If immigration is not an issue for you, then obviously this benefit is irrelevant.

A pardon also has other benefits in Colorado. It lifts other legal disabilities, such as employment disabilities.[3] This, in effect, may enhance your employment prospects.[3] If you are ever concerned that your conviction may be a problem when you apply for a job, housing, a trade or occupational license, you might want to send the employer, landlord, or licensing authority a copy of your pardon.

The pardon is, after all, a strong official statement from the highest executive officer of the State forgiving you of the crime and essentially declaring you a rehabilitated individual. Most employers and licensing agencies, and perhaps most landlords as well, would probably ignore your conviction if they know you have received a pardon.

Nevertheless, keep in mind that a pardon does not seal, erase, or expunge your conviction. As in many other states, a pardon in Colorado “forgives but does not forget.” Your conviction will still be part of your criminal record for all to see. However, the fact that you have been pardoned for a particular conviction will become part of your record as well, thus mitigating the negative effects of the conviction.

Unfortunately, there is no way to erase or expunge an adult conviction in Colorado.[3] There is a process that allows you to seal charges that were dismissed or that that resulted in an acquittal.[14] You should talk to an attorney if you think you qualify for this option.

Finally, keep in mind that the effects of a pardon can vary from one state to the next. For example, if you receive a pardon in Colorado and then move to another state, that other state might take away your gun rights or require you to register as a sex offender again even if the pardon remove those restrictions on you while you were living in Colorado. You should always check with the laws of the state you move to rather than just assume that the benefits of the pardon moves with you across state lines. Fortunately, states tend and honor each other’s pardons.


External Links

References

  1. Colo. Const. art. IV, § 7.
  2. Colo. Atty. General Opinion No. 84-7 (April 24, 1984).
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 The Sentencing Project, Colorado, Margaret Colgate Love, http://www.sentencingproject.org/tmp/File/Collateral%20Consequences/Colorado.pdf
  4. 4.0 4.1 See Executive Order B 008 07, Bill Ritter, Jr., Governor (dated 08/28/07).
  5. Schwartz v. Owens, 134 P.3d 455 (Colo. App. 2005).
  6. http://www.9news.com/news/story.aspx?storyid=174176&catid=222
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, Colorado, http://www.cjpf.org/clemency/Colorado.html
  8. 8.0 8.1 In re R.W.V., 942 P.2d 1317 (Colo. App. 1997).
  9. 9.0 9.1 Colo. Const. art. VII, § 10. See also Colo. Rev. Stat. § 1-2-103(4).
  10. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-1.3.401(3). The exceptions are listed in Article XII, Section 4, of the Colorado Constitution.
  11. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-71-105; see also People v. Ellis, 148 P.3d 205 (Colo. App.2006)
  12. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-12-108.
  13. 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(20) & (33).
  14. The Sentencing Project, Colorado, Margaret Colgate Love, http://www.sentencingproject.org/tmp/File/Collateral%20Consequences/Colorado.pdf; Colo. Rev. Stat. § 24-72-308.