Georgia Pardon Information

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Authority

The authority to grant pardons in George belongs to the State Board of Pardons. The Board is also responsible for granting reprieves, parole, commutations of sentence, and other types of clemency.[1] A pardon is, thus, only one type of clemency in Georgia.

The Board consists of 5 members who are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate.[1] Each member serves a 7-year term.[1] The Governor does not have any direct involvement in the pardon application process.[2]

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

RecordGone See http://www.recordclearing.org/ for more info on options for record sealing and expungement

Eligibility

There are 2 ways to be eligible for a pardon. One way is to show that you were innocent of the crime you were convicted of. For example, newly discovered evidence or DNA evidence may conclusively point to someone else. It is very difficult to obtain a pardon based on innocence. According to the State Board of Pardons, in its 60-plus year history, it has granted less than 5 pardons based on innocence.[3]

The second way to be eligible for a pardon is if you have completed your sentence obligations, including all probation and court-ordered payments, and have lived for at least 5 years without being involved in any crimes.[4] You also cannot have any pending charges against you. The 5-year waiting period can be waived if you can show that the delay could be harmful to your livelihood (i.e., you would miss out on an important job opportunity).[3]

The Board can only pardon you for a Georgia conviction. It cannot pardon you for federal or out-of-state convictions. If you want a pardon for 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.

However, if you have federal or out-of-state convictions that are preventing you from exercising some of your civil rights (voting, serving on a jury, etc.) in Georgia, and you are currently residing in Georgia, the Board may restore those rights for you without actually giving you a pardon. This process is called “Restoration of Civil and Political Rights.” The application process for doing this is the same as applying for a pardon, and you will simply use the same application form mentioned in the next section.

To be eligible for Restoration of Civil and Political Rights, you must have completed your sentence, including all probation, parole, and court-ordered payments, and have since then gone on for at least 2 years without any criminal involvement.[3]

The Board typically does not grant a pardon for misdemeanor convictions.[5] However, if you are facing deportation because of a misdemeanor conviction, then the Board may grant you a pardon for that misdemeanor to prevent you from being deported.[5]

The rule of thumb is if you are unsure whether or not you qualify for a pardon, you should go ahead and apply. There is no harm in doing so.

Between 35% and 50% of those who apply for a pardon every year are granted.[5] In 2012, 89 pardons were granted but the number of applications is unknown.[6] Of course, your chances of getting a pardon largely depend on your individual circumstances—the age and seriousness of your conviction(s), the amount of proof you have of your rehabilitation, etc. Also, perhaps to a lesser extent, your chances can vary from one Governor to the next; some Governors are more lenient than others in handling out pardons.

The Application Process

There are no fees to apply for a pardon in Georgia.

If you are applying for a pardon because you have strong evidence that you were innocent of the crime (pardon based on innocence), your application can be on any written form; the State Board of Pardons does not have any formal requirements or standardized forms for the application.

However, if you, like most people, are applying based on completion of sentence and 5 years of law-abiding behavior, there is a standardized application form which you must use. The application form is very simple and self-explanatory, and can be found on the Board’s website at http://www.pap.state.ga.us/opencms/opencms/ .

See http://www.ApplyForPardon.com for forms processing services that assist you in completing a pardon application.

If you cannot access the Board’s website or the application form itself, you can call 404-657-9350 and ask for one to be sent or emailed to you. Their mailing address is:

2 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, S.E., Suite 458, Balcony Level, East Tower Atlanta, Georgia 30334-4909

Make sure you read the instructions on the back of the application form carefully before you fill it out. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact the Board at the above number.

On the application, be sure to check all the boxes that you wish to be considered for. For example, if you want to get a pardon and to restore your civil rights (voting, serving on a jury, holding public office, etc.) you most check both of the boxes that say “Pardon” and “Restoration of Civil and Political rights.” If you want to restore your gun rights as well, then you must also check this box.

If you need to obtain a copy of your criminal record because you do not remember the details and whereabouts of all of your arrests/convictions, you can do so by contacting the Georgia Crime Information Center at (404) 270-8418 or writing to P.O. Box 370748.

If you have arrests/convictions in other states, you can obtain a more comprehensive, nationwide criminal report from the FBI. You can find out how to do this by calling the FBI’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., at (202) 324-3000, or logging onto its website at http://www.fbi.gov. The FBI’s website also has a list of local FBI offices you can call.

In the alternative, you can contact the criminal history record repository (which keeps a record of all criminal activity in a state) in each state where you have arrests/convictions. Listed on Criminal History Record Repositories is a list of criminal history record repositories for all 50 states.

Your gun rights can only be restored if you have completed all sentences and have gone on for at least 5 years without any criminal activity. You cannot have any unpaid fines or pending charges against you. Your gun rights cannot be restored if you have been convicted of a drug-related offense or an offense involving the use of a firearm.

Moreover, in order to have your gun rights restored, you must submit letters of reference from 3 citizens who are not family members. The letters should come from credible individuals; church leaders, employers, and teachers are usually good sources (as opposed to your 16-year-old sister or high school buddy). Please note that there is a way for you to regain your gun rights without necessarily getting a pardon.[7] You should inquire with the Board or an attorney if you are interested in this option.

Although not required, we highly suggest that you submit, on a separate sheet of paper, a detailed and genuine personal statement explaining why you need a pardon. Simply saying you want to “clean your record” is not enough. Tell the Board how your conviction has negatively affected you and/or your family.

For example, and if applicable, explain how you have been denied housing or employment opportunities because of your conviction, and how this has prevented you from providing your family and you an adequate standard of living.

If you are facing deportation because of a conviction, explain how being separated from your family will negatively affect you as well as them. If you are pursuing a career in a field that requires you to obtain a pardon, submit documents, letters, or other proof from a prospective employer, licensing agency, or attorney verifying this necessity.

If you need to regain your gun rights, explain why you need this—for example, you are pursuing a career that requires the use of firearms, or you want to take part in your family hunting traditions, or you simply want to feel more secure and able to defend yourself and/or your family after a recent traumatic event. Remember that in order to have your gun rights restored, you must submit letters of reference from 3 citizens who are not family members.

Also indicate on your personal statement all the positive things that have occurred in your life—for example, educational achievements, new or stable employment, marriage and children, community involvement, charitable services or donations, law-abiding behavior, etc. Submit copies of your college transcript, high school diploma or GED, military certificates, marriage certificate, honors and awards, and other proof of your rehabilitation and good character. Explain what your future plans are and how a pardon would help or hinder those plans.

In writing your personal statement, keep in mind that the Board will not be retrying you for the offense. Although you may want to explain the facts of the crime from your perspective, avoid trying to make excessive excuses for your crime and arguing away your guilt. The Board 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.

After you have filled out and signed the application form, send it to the Board at the above address along with your personal statement, letters of reference, and other supporting documents. Make sure you keep a copy of everything you send for your records.

Once the Board receives your application, it may have an investigator conduct an interview on you. You should be upfront and cooperative with the Board and its agents at all times. In most cases, the Board will make a paper decision without holding a hearing; however, it may hold a hearing if it so chooses, in which case you will have an opportunity to attend.

If a hearing is held, you should not only attend but also look and act your best. If possible, dress in the same way you would if you were going to court for a trial (this means, for men, a suit and tie). Have your friends, family members, neighbors, church members, your boss, co-workers, and others attend the hearing to show their support. The hearing is a good opportunity for you to put a human face onto your application; it lets the Board not only see you in person but also see the amount of support you have in your community.

In order for you to receive a pardon, a majority of the Board members must vote to grant you a pardon.[8] If the Board grants you a pardon, it must issue a written decision, which will become part of the Board’s permanent record.[9] Again, the Governor has no involvement in the process.

The Effects

A pardon is basically a declaration by the Board that you are relieved of the legal consequences of your conviction.[3] However, a pardon does not make you “innocent” of the crime again. A pardon also does not erase or expunge your conviction. Unfortunately, there is no law in Georgia that allows you to expunge a conviction, although you can expunge an arrest/charge that did not result in a conviction.[10] Talk to an attorney if you have arrests/charges that you need to expunge.

In Georgia, if you have been convicted of a felony, you lose your rights to vote, to serve on a jury, and to hold public office, among other things. Some of these rights (your right to vote, for example) may be automatically restored after you fully complete your sentence; others are not, which is where the pardon would help you.

Georgia law states that “All pardons shall relieve those pardoned from civil and political disabilities imposed because of their convictions.”[11] This includes your rights to vote, to hold public office, and to sit on a jury, among others. A pardon will also relieve you of any licensing or employment restrictions that you may have because of the conviction.[5] Furthermore, if you receive a pardon, the conviction cannot be used to attack your credibility as a witness in any future criminal trial.[12]

Georgia law prohibits the Board from issuing “conditional pardons.”[13] This means that you either get a full pardon with no restrictions/conditions attached, or no pardon at all.

Your gun rights, on the other hand, are only restored by a pardon if the pardon expressly says so.[14] If you have been convicted of a federal offense or an offense involving unlawful manufacture, distribution, possession, or use of a controlled substance or dangerous drug, the Board will not restore your gun rights.[15]

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.[16]

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, make sure you indicate this desire clearly on your application.

In most cases, federal immigration authorities cannot rely solely on a conviction that has been subject to a pardon for the purpose of deporting you from the country. If immigration is not an issue for you, this benefit is obviously irrelevant.

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 Georgia 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 removed those restrictions on you while you were living in Georgia.

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. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Ga. Const. art. IV, § 2.
  2. Ga. Code § 42-9-56.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 http://www.pap.state.ga.us/opencms/opencms/.
  4. Ga. Comp. R. & Regs. r. 475-3-.10.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 The Sentencing Project, Georgia, Margaret Colgate Love, http://www.sentencingproject.org/doc/File/Collateral%20Consequences/Georgia.pdf
  6. http://chronicle.augusta.com/news/crime-courts/2012-05-26/ga-pardons-board-granting-more-medical-reprieves-sick-inmates-save
  7. See Ga. Code § 16-11-131(d).
  8. Ga. Code § 42-9-42.
  9. Ga. Code § 42-9-42.
  10. See Ga. Code § 35-3-37
  11. Ga. Code § 42-9-54
  12. Ga. Code § 24-9-84.1
  13. Ga. Code § 42-9-541
  14. Ga. Code § 16-11-131(c)
  15. Ga. Comp. R. & Regs. r. 475-3-.10
  16. 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(20) & (33)