Massachusetts Pardon Information
The Constitution of Massachusetts gives the Governor the power to pardon, subject to some limitations. The Governor can put any conditions, restrictions, and limitations on the pardon as he deems proper.
There is a body called the Massachusetts Parole Board, which screens all pardon applications and makes recommendations to the Governor. The Board is made up of seven members who are appointed by the Governor and who each serve a five-year term.
There is also a body close to the Governor called the Governor’s Council (also known as the Executive Council). In order for the Governor to grant a pardon to anyone, she must first get the advice and consent of the Governor’s Council. The Council consists of the Lieutenant Governor and 8 elected individuals from districts all across the State.
Because the focus of this site is on pardons, we will not discuss reprieves, commutations, remission of fines and forfeitures, amnesty, parole, or other types of clemency that may be available in Massachusetts here. We will also not discuss judicial alternatives such as record expungement, record sealing, setting aside or dismissal of convictions. If any of these alternative options may be more appropriate for you, you should talk to an attorney.
The Massachusetts Parole Board will only make a favorable recommendation for a pardon if you (the petitioner) can show all of the following by “clear and convincing evidence”:
A specific compelling need for a pardon. A substantial period of good citizenship following the criminal offense for which you are requesting a pardon. The ends of justice will be served by granting you a pardon.
It is very difficult to get a pardon in Massachusetts. The vast majority of pardon applications are denied.  The Governor only grants pardons under “rare and exceptional” circumstances. Simply wanting to put your past behind you or to have a clean criminal record is probably not enough. An example of a specific compelling need may be that you have been prevented from pursuing certain jobs, trade or occupational licenses, which have prevented you from making an adequate income to support you and/or your family. Another example of a specific compelling need may be that you are facing deportation because of the conviction, and without the pardon you would be separated from your spouse and children. Whatever your compelling need may be, you are required to provide adequate proof, such as a letter of denial from the employer/licensing agency or the charging document from immigration authorities placing you in deportation proceedings.
Furthermore, under Governor Deval L. Patrick’s administration, a person is generally not eligible for a pardon for a felony conviction until he or she has gone on for at least fifteen years without being convicted or confined for any crime. To be eligible for a pardon for a misdemeanor conviction, the person must have gone on for at least ten years without being convicted or confined for any crime. Of course, if the circumstances require you to receive a pardon sooner rather than later (for example, you have been placed in deportation proceedings), then the Governor may waive the waiting period. The waiting periods noted here are informal policies that can vary from one Governor to the next.
If your purpose in obtaining a pardon is to restore your gun rights, the Governor will generally not grant you a pardon if you have a history of mental or emotional problems or if you have been convicted of any offense that involves any of the following:
- The use of a firearm
- Violence, for which you were jailed or imprisoned
- More than one felony crime arising out of separate transactions
- Rape or kidnapping
- Distribution of controlled substances
- Serious breach of the public trust (for example, election fraud)
- Organized crime or large-scale criminal conspiracy
- Domestic violence
- Sexual abuse
- Assault and battery on a child
The Governor can only grant a pardon for a Massachusetts State conviction. 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.
Finally, keep in mind that a pardon is not the same as a “commutation.” Whereas a pardon forgives you for the crime, a commutation merely eliminates a portion of your punishment. A commutation does not forgive of the crime. A commutation is typically sought by prison inmates who are still serving their sentence and do not satisfy the waiting periods required for a pardon. A commutation, if granted, typically has the effect of releasing you from prison early. Because the focus of this site is on pardons, we will not discuss commutations here. However, you can find out more about commutations by reading the Governor’s Executive Clemency Guidelines (see Part C).
Your chance of getting a pardon would, again, largely depend on how compelling your need is, in addition to the age and seriousness of your conviction(s). Your chance may also depend on who is sitting in the Governor’s office at the time your application is reviewed; some Governors are simply more lenient in handing out pardons than others.
In recent years, the Governors have received about 100 pardon applications annually. However, the vast majority of them are denied. In 2011, 40 pardon applications were received. No pardons were granted and 1 application was denied.
The Application Process
There are no fees to apply for a pardon in Massachusetts. Before they are seen by the Governor, all pardon petitions must first be filed with the Massachusetts Parole Board. The Parole Board determines eligibility, conducts investigations, holds hearings, and makes recommendations to the Governor on all pardon applications.
The Parole Board has provided a simple, self-explanatory pardon application form for you to use. The form can be obtained on the Internet here: http://www.mass.gov/?pageID=eopsterminal&L=4&L0=Home&L1=Law+Enforcement+%26+Criminal+Justice&L2=Parole&L3=Executive+Clemency+Unit&sid=Eeops&b=terminalcontent&f=pb_executive_clemency&csid=Eeops. (Note: you can obtain a commutation application at the same link.) If you cannot access the webpage or the application itself, you can call the Governor’s office directly at 617-725-4015 and ask for one to be mailed or possibly emailed to you. You can also write to:
State House, Room 184
Boston, MA 02133
The form is rather simple and self-explanatory. It asks for basic information such as your name and any aliases you have ever used, plus your date of birth, address, social security number, residence history, and marital status, among other things.
There will be a section on the form that asks you to list all of your arrests and convictions, including federal and out-of-state arrests and convictions. You will need to know the location of the offense, the name of the law enforcement agency involved, the circumstances of the arrest, the name and location of the court where you were charged, and the disposition (outcome) of the court case.
If you do not have sufficient information about all of your arrests and convictions, you should contact the law enforcement agency or court where you received the conviction. Listed on Criminal History Record Repositories is a list of criminal history record repositories for all 50 states; a state’s criminal history repository is usually where you must turn to for your criminal report which lists all of your arrests, charges, and convictions in that state. Alternatively, you can contact the FBI to obtain a more comprehensive, nationwide criminal report by calling its headquarters in Washington, D.C., at (202) 324-3000 or by logging onto its website at http://www.fbi.gov. The FBI’s website also has a list of local FBI offices you can call.
There will also be a section on the application that asks you to explain why you would like a pardon. Refer back to the eligibility requirements we listed in Part B of this chapter. This is perhaps the most important part of your application. Use an extra sheet of paper if you need to. Explain how you have been prevented from pursuing certain jobs, housing, trade or occupational licenses because of the conviction, and how it has negatively affected you and/or your family. If you are facing deportation, explain how it would negatively affect you and/or your family if you are deported. Remember, your need must be “compelling.”
If you state in your application that your “compelling need” for a pardon is to obtain a particular license or employment, you are required to submit written verification of this. This means a letter from the employer or licensing agency stating that a pardon is required in order for you to be employed or to receive the particular license. If your compelling need is to avoid deportation, you must provide documentary evidence that you have been placed in deportation proceedings and that a pardon would help you avoid this. If your compelling need is that you need to regain your gun rights in order to accept a law enforcement job, you must provide a letter from the potential employer that your employment offer is conditioned upon you first receiving a pardon. The bottom line is, whatever your “compelling need” may be, you must submit written proof beyond merely your words.
Again, the Governor will not generally grant you a pardon if she determines that there are other legal remedies available to you that would achieve what you need. In fact, there will be a section on the application that asks whether, to the best of your knowledge, you would be eligible for a sealing of your conviction under Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 276, Section 100A. You should either talk to an attorney or refer the Governors’ Executive Clemency Guidelines to determine if you are eligible for a sealing. The Governor’s Executive Clemency Guidelines can be found here: http://www.mass.gov/?pageID=eopsterminal&L=4&L0=Home&L1=Law+Enforcement+%26+Criminal+Justice&L2=Parole&L3=Executive+Clemency+Unit&sid=Eeops&b=terminalcontent&f=pb_executive_clemency&csid=Eeops. (Note: if you are facing deportation because of a conviction, only a pardon for that conviction would avoid deportation.) You should refer to the Guidelines before or at the same time you fill out your application for a pardon.
Having a compelling need is not enough. You must also show that you have been a good citizen for a substantial period of time ever since your conviction. Accordingly, there will be a section on the application for you to explain your community achievements and other things to demonstrate that you have been a good citizen and productive member of society since your conviction. Again, use a separate sheet of paper if necessary. List all of the positive things that have occurred in your life, such as educational achievements, new or stable employment, marriage and children, community involvement, charitable donations or services, professional associations or licenses, law-abiding behavior, etc. Provide documentary evidence of these things, such as copies of your college transcript, high school diploma or GED, marriage certificate, military certificate, children’s birth certificate, awards and recognitions, etc. It is not enough to simply show the Governor that you have stayed out of trouble; the Governor wants to see specific achievements.
If you would like your gun rights restored, you must first get a letter from the Chief of Police in your city or town indicating that he/she would approve your application for a gun permit if you are granted a pardon. This letter must then be submitted along with your application.
Finally, you will be required to submit at least three letters of recommendation from individuals, other than family members, who know you well and can attest to your good character and reputation. These should come from credible people such as your minister, a teacher, a judge, your Congressperson, a present or former boss, etc. A letter from your buddy from high school, on the other hand, will probably not be very credible.
Make a copy of everything you send for your records. Your entire application, including all letters and supporting documents, must be mailed to:
Governor’s Executive Council
State House, Room 184
Boston, MA 02133
If, after initially reviewing your application the Parole Board deems you eligible for a pardon, it will schedule a public hearing on your application. The Parole Board will send a notice of your application and the hearing date to the following individuals, who are given an opportunity to make a written recommendation:
- The Attorney General
- The Chief of Police in the municipality where you committed the crime
- The District Attorney in the district where you were sentenced
- The Justice in the court where you were sentenced
- The Secretary of Public Safety
The victim will also be notified of the hearing at least 30 days before the hearing. The victim will be given an opportunity to voice his/her opinion, either in writing or at the hearing.
If a hearing is held, you not only must attend, but should 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 men, a suit and tie). Have friends, family members, neighbors, co-workers, and others in your community attend the hearing to show their support. The hearing is a good opportunity to put a human face onto your application; it lets the Parole Board not only see you in person but also see the amount of support you have in your community.
At the hearing, you will be allowed to make opening and closing statements. The Parole Board panel will permit testimony from anyone else who wishes to provide information regarding your suitability for a pardon. Therefore, if you have credible witnesses who can attest to your good character/reputation in your community, have them testify. The panel may ask you various questions, including your criminal background, your current view on the crime you committed, and your reasons for applying for a pardon. Again, the victim or victim’s family may voice their opinions as well. Government officials (such as a prosecutor) may also present their own witnesses and other evidence to oppose your application. 
However, keep in mind that the Parole Board will not be re-trying you for the offense. Although you may feel the need to explain the facts of the crime from your perspective, avoid trying to make excuses for your crime and arguing away your guilt. However you feel about the crime, you had already been found guilty. The Parole Board is more interested in seeing your remorse for the crime, and your understanding of its effects on the victim and society, than anything else.
Be upfront and cooperative at all times. This includes the information you provide in your application as well as information you provide at the hearing. In particular, if you have had any restraining orders or other court orders (for example, a contempt order) issued against you in the past 5 years, you must let the Parole Board know this.
After the Parole Board has reviewed your case and conducted the hearing (if one is held) it can either deny your application without sending it to the Governor,or it send your entire file, along with its recommendation and report, to the Governor. The Parole Board’s report, recommendation, and other information in your pardon application will be public record for ten years. 
The Governor has the final say on whether or not you receive a pardon, but she must first obtain the advice and consent of the Governor’s Council (see Part A). The Governor’s decision is final. This means you cannot appeal to a court if you are unhappy with the decision. However, you can re-apply one year later.
The entire process, from the time you submit your application to the Governor’s final decision, can take up to a year and a half.
The primary effects of a pardon are that it forgives you of the crime, prevents you from being further punished for that crime, and removes legal barriers that result from the conviction for that crime.
Additionally, once the Governor grants you a pardon, all records pertaining to the conviction will be sealed. Once sealed, the conviction cannot be used against you in any examination, appointment, or application for employment—public or private. The sealed conviction also cannot be used against you for other benefits such as housing, credit, and licenses. It also cannot be used against you in most future criminal proceedings except at sentencing for certain types of offenses. In any application or interview, you can deny that you have ever been convicted of that offense. A sealing, however, does not completely “expunge” your conviction; it will still be available to law enforcement.  As we indicated in the previous section, you do not necessarily need a pardon before you can apply to a court to seal your conviction. If you are interested in sealing your conviction without first getting a pardon, you should talk to an attorney knowledgeable about the process.
If the Governor grants you a conditional pardon and releases you from prison early as a result, a violation of any of the conditions of the pardon can cause your pardon to be revoked and you to be re-arrested and thrown back in prison to serve the remainder of your sentence.
If you are granted a pardon on the grounds of innocence (for example, DNA evidence conclusively proves that you did not commit the crime), then that conviction cannot be used to enhance your sentence for any future convictions under Massachusetts’ “habitual criminal” law. If you receive a pardon based on any other reason, then the conviction can still be used against you under the “habitual criminal” law.
Also, if you have been wrongfully imprisoned based on an erroneous felony conviction and the Governor grants you a pardon based on innocence, then you may be able to sue the State of Massachusetts for compensation. This is something you should probably retain an attorney to help you with as soon as possible, as there may be a very short deadline to sue.
If you lost certain marital rights because of a conviction, getting a pardon for that conviction will not restore those rights for you. For example, if you lost custody of your children to your ex-wife because of your conviction, a pardon for that conviction would probably not give you custody of the children again.
A pardon will restore your basic citizenship rights, such as your right to vote, to serve on a jury, and to run for and public office (chances are, these rights have already been restored). However, if you want your gun rights restored, remember that you must first get a letter from the Chief of Police in your city or town indicating that he/she would approve your application for a gun permit if you are granted a pardon. This letter must then be submitted along with your pardon application. See Part C.
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. 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.
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 Massachusetts 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 lifted these restrictions from you while you were living in Massachusetts. Thus, 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.
- Massachusetts on Wikipedia
- Massachusetts State Bar
- ApplyForPardon .com - Pardon form completion service. Enter your information and get a neat and clean looking form sent to you.
- Record Clearing .org - post conviction information
- Mass. Const. pt. 2, ch. II, sec. I, art. VIII (amended by Article LXXIII of Amendments).
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 27, § 4.
- The Sentencing Project, Massachusetts, Margaret Colgate Love, http://www.sentencingproject.org/tmp/File/Collateral%20Consequences/Massachusetts.pdf
- Mass. Regs. Code tit. 120, § 902.01.
- Executive Clemency Guidelines (May 21, 2007), Governor Deval L. Patrick, p.1, http://www.mass.gov/?pageID=eopsterminal&L=4&L0=Home&L1=Law+Enforcement+%26+Criminal+Justice&L2=Parole&L3=Executive+Clemency+Unit&sid=Eeops&b=terminalcontent&f=pb_executive_clemency&csid=Eeops
- Massachusetts Parole Board
- Executive Clemency Guidelines (May 21, 2007), Governor Deval L. Patrick, p.5, http://www.mass.gov/?pageID=eopsterminal&L=4&L0=Home&L1=Law+Enforcement+%26+Criminal+Justice&L2=Parole&L3=Executive+Clemency+Unit&sid=Eeops&b=terminalcontent&f=pb_executive_clemency&csid=Eeops
- Mass. Regs. Code tit. 120, § 902.05.
- Mass. Regs. Code tit. 120, § 400.04.
- Mass. Regs. Code tit. 120, § 902.09.
- Executive Clemency Guidelines (May 21, 2007), Governor Deval L. Patrick, p. 3, http://www.mass.gov/?pageID=eopsterminal&L=4&L0=Home&L1=Law+Enforcement+%26+Criminal+Justice&L2=Parole&L3=Executive+Clemency+Unit&sid=Eeops&b=terminalcontent&f=pb_executive_clemency&csid=Eeops.
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 127, § 154.
- Mass. Regs. Code tit. 120, § 902.12.
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 127, § 152.
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 127, §§ 155 and 156.
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 279, § 25.
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 258D, § 1.
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 208, § 2.
- 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(20) & (33).