North Carolina Pardon Information
The Constitution of North Carolina gives the Governor the power to “grant reprieves, commutations, and pardons, after conviction, for all offenses” except in cases of impeachment. The Governor may put any conditions, limitations or restrictions on a pardon as he deems proper. The Legislature has the power to regulate the manner in which a person can apply for a pardon.
There is a unit within the Governor’s office called the Executive Clemency Office (or Office of Executive Clemency) which processes all clemency/pardon applications, oversees and conducts investigations into pardon applications, and prepares reports and drafts orders for the Governor. However, the Legislature has also given a body called the Post-Release Supervision and Parole Commission the authority to assist the Governor, at his request, in exercising his clemency powers.
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 North Carolina here. We will also 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.
According to the Governor’s office, Office of Executive Clemency, a pardon is generally granted to an individual after he or she has “maintained a good reputation” in his or her community following completion of his or her sentence.
There is generally a five-year waiting period after a person is released from their sentence (including any probation, parole, or supervision) before he or she may apply for a Governor’s pardon. However, the Governor’s office can waive this waiting period if the person can show a specific need for the pardon sooner. An example might be a job offer that requires a person to legally possess a gun, or a person who is facing deportation and needs a pardon in order to avoid being separated from his family.
The Governor can only grant a pardon for a North Carolina 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.
There are three types of pardons that the Governor can grant:
- Pardon of Forgiveness. This is the most frequently requested type of pardon, according to the Governor’s Office of Executive Clemency. This type of pardon would state that you have been pardoned and “forgiven” of the crime you committed. It is usually granted with conditions attached.
- Pardon of Innocence. This type of pardon can only be requested and granted if you were convicted but the charges were subsequently dismissed. This usually applies in cases where the person was wrongfully convicted and later declared innocent (e.g., DNA evidence clears him). This type of pardon, if granted, would allow you to seek compensation from the State.
- Unconditional Pardon. This type of pardon is requested and granted primarily to restore a person’s right to own a gun (firearm). It is usually granted without any conditions or restrictions attached.
Keep in mind that pardons are rarely granted in North Carolina. On average, the Governor’s office receives between 60 and 80 applications a year. Between 2001 and 2007, the Governor(s) only granted 2 pardons. In 2012, 10 pardons were granted.
Your chance of getting a pardon largely depends on your individual circumstances. Naturally, the older and less serious your conviction, and the more compelling your life story, the higher your chance of getting a pardon. Your chance of getting a pardon can also depend on who is serving as Governor at the time your application is reviewed; some Governors are simply more lenient than others in handing out pardons.
The Application Process
There are no application fees to apply for a pardon in North Carolina. At the time of this writing, the Governor’s office has not made any pardon materials available on Internet for you to access. In fact, at the time of this writing, there are no standardized application forms available.
Applying for a pardon is simply a matter of sending a formal personal letter addressed to the current Governor, whoever he or she may be at the time you apply. The letter should be written in a narrative fashion. In the letter you should have, at the very least, basic information such as your name, your date of birth, your marital status, your employment history, your current address, and information about the conviction which you are seeking a pardon for. The letter must be written and signed by you or by someone on your behalf (such as an attorney).
In your letter, you must state the reasons for why you are asking a pardon, keeping in mind the standards for the three different types of pardons in Part B. Because pardons are rarely granted, you better have a very compelling reason for why the Governor should grant you a pardon.
Explain in detail how the conviction has negatively affected you. For example, you may have been turned down certain jobs, have been denied housing, or have been prevented from pursuing certain types of business, trade, or occupational licenses, which in turn has prevented you from adequately supporting yourself and/or your family. If this is the case, submit copies of any denial letters you may have kept. If you want an Unconditional Pardon restoring your gun rights, it is crucial that you submit a letter from the prospective employer or licensing agency indicating that you need your gun rights restored.
If you are facing deportation for a minor crime, explain to the Governor your family circumstances, particularly how deportation would impose a terrible hardship on you and/or your family. Provide the Governor a copy of your Notice to Appear or other immigration documents to prove that you are indeed being put in deportation proceedings.
In writing your letter, keep in mind that the Governor will not be retrying you for the offense. Although you may want to explain the facts of the crime from your perspective, unless you have evidence that actually prove your innocence (e.g., DNA evidence that conclusively shows someone else committed the crime) avoid trying to make excessive excuses for your crime and arguing away your guilt. However you feel about the crime, you have 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.
In addition to the statement of your reasons, you should also detail all the positive things that have occurred in your life since the conviction. This may include 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 or high school diploma/GED, marriage certificate, military certificate, children’s birth certificate, awards and recognitions, and anything else that shows your rehabilitation and good character.
We also suggest that you submit a few letters of recommendation from credible people (such as your boss) who know you well and can say good things about 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.
In addition to your personal letter, you are required to submit copies of documents pertaining to the case you are seeking a pardon for. These include copies of:
- The Indictment (this is the original charging document accusing you of the crime)
- The plea agreement (if any)
- The Judgment and Commitment papers
You can obtain all of these documents from the clerk’s office in the court where you were convicted. The copies must be certified as “true copies” and bear the court’s seal. The clerk will charge you a small fee for this service. If you do not remember what court you received the conviction in, you may need to obtain your North Carolina criminal history report, which would list all arrests, charges, and convictions you have received in the state. Any local police station would be able to tell you how to do this.
Make sure you keep a copy of everything you send for your records. Your person letter, along with all supporting documents and letters of recommendation, should be mailed to:
Executive Clemency Office
4294 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-4294
If you have any questions about the application process, you can call the Executive Clemency Office (part of the Governor’s office) directly at 919-715-8623.
Once the Governor’s office receives your application, it will review your application and will typically conduct an investigation into your case. This may include doing a criminal background check on you as well as personal interviews with you and/or those around you. You should be upfront and cooperative with the Governor’s office and its agents at all times.
The Governor’s office is required to notify the District Attorney in the county where you were convicted of your application. The District Attorney will then have an opportunity to provide his or her opinion on your application.
The Governor’s office is also required to notify the victim of your crime when it is considering your pardon application. The victim has a right to present a written statement to the Governor’s office regarding your application. The victim also has a right to be notified of the result of your application.
There may or may not be a hearing in your case. If there is a hearing, 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 men, a suit and tie). The victim and a government representative may also be there to speak out against your application.
If a hearing is held and you are permitted, have friends, family members, and others you know attend to show their support for you. The hearing is an excellent opportunity for you to put a human face onto your application; it not only lets the Governor see you in person but also see the amount of support you have in your community.
Once the review, investigation, and/or hearing stages are complete, you will be notified of the Governor’s decision. The Governor’s decision to grant or deny you a pardon is final. This means you cannot appeal to a court if you are unhappy with the decision. Again, the Governor has a lot of power and discretion in granting pardons (and other types of clemency). If the Governor denies you a pardon, your only recourse is to reapply in 3 years.
With the exception of the “Pardon of Innocence” type pardon (see Part B), a pardon will not erase, seal, or expunge your conviction from your criminal record. As in many other states, a pardon in North Carolina “forgives but does not forget.” However, once you receive a pardon, an official statement will be added to your criminal record saying that you have been pardoned of the particular crime.
However, if you receive a “Pardon of Innocence,” you are then eligible to apply to the court where you received your conviction for an expungement. The court is then required to issue an order expunging your conviction from all court and law enforcement files, at no cost to you. Remember, this requires affirmative action on your part; the Pardon of Innocence does not automatically expunge your conviction.
Also, if you were required to register as a sex offender because of a conviction, a “Pardon of Innocence” for that particular conviction will release you of your duty to continue registering as a sex offender. The Governor, of course, can place a condition on the pardon that requires you to continue registering (in this case, it would be called an “Unconditional Pardon of Innocence”). Also, if you have other convictions which require you to register and which have not been pardoned, then you will probably need to continue registering.
You can also apply to have a misdemeanor conviction expunged if you were a first-time offender who committed your misdemeanor offense when you were under the age of 18. Likewise, you may be able to expunge records of a charge that did not result in a conviction (a dismissal, acquittal, etc.) if you do not have any felony convictions on your record. You should talk to an attorney knowledgeable about the record expungement process in North Carolina if you think you qualify for and are interested in these options.
Also, if you receive a “Pardon of Innocence,” you may be entitled to compensation from the State up to $50,000 for every year you were in prison for that conviction, for a total of $750,000. In addition, you may be awarded compensation for job skills training and college tuition to help you re-integrate into society. However, there is a time limit after you are released from prison to claim your compensation. You should probably retain the services of an attorney to assist you with this as soon as possible.
Again, other than a “Pardon of Innocence,” the other two types of pardons—the “Pardon of Forgiveness” and the “Unconditional Pardon”—do not erase or expunge your conviction.
If you are ever concerned that your conviction might 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 agency a copy of your pardon so they are certain you received a pardon for that particular conviction. Most employers, licensing agencies, and landlords will probably ignore your conviction if they know you have received a pardon for it. A 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.
If you receive the Unconditional Pardon, you are automatically restored all of the citizenship rights which you may have lost as a result of that particular conviction, including your right to bear arms.
If you receive a Pardon of Forgiveness, then the pardon document will typically indicate what the limitations and restrictions are. For example, it might say all of your rights are restored except for your gun rights. Remember, the Governor can place any conditions, limitations, or restrictions on a pardon as he deems proper.
Keep in mind, however, that all of your citizenship rights are automatically restored (i.e. without the need for a pardon) in North Carolina once you receive an unconditional discharge from prison, probation, parole, or a suspended sentence. Likewise, if you were given a conditional pardon and you satisfy all of the conditions of the pardon, your citizenship rights should automatically be restored as well.
Clearly, a pardon isn’t the only way to have your rights restored. At the time when you are unconditionally discharged in any of the above scenarios, the agency, court, or department having jurisdiction over you should have issued you a certificate indicating that what rights are restored.
As we indicated in Part A, the Governor can place any reasonable conditions, restrictions, or limitations on a pardon as he deems proper. If the Governor grants you a conditional pardon and releases you from prison early as a result, a violation of any condition of the pardon can cause you to be rearrested and put back in prison.
If you receive a pardon (whatever type), the conviction that has been pardoned cannot be counted against you to enhance your sentence for a future conviction under North Carolina’s “Habitual Felon” or “Violent Habitual Felon” statute. Of course, the burden would rest on you to prove that you were granted the pardon. Likewise, a conviction that has been pardoned cannot be used to impeach you (attack your credibility) if you are ever a witness in any future court proceeding.
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. Thus, if regaining your gun rights is important to you, the type of pardon you want to apply for is the Unconditional Pardon.
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 North Carolina 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 North Carolina. 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.
- North Carolina on Wikipedia
- North Carolina 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
- N.C. Const. art. III, § 5(6)
- See Office of Executive Clemency, http://www.doc.state.nc.us/clemency/index.htm
- Id.; N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143B-266
- Office of Executive Clemency, Glossary of Terms, http://www.doc.state.nc.us/clemency/glossary.htm
- N.C. Gen. Stat. § 148-82
- The Sentencing Project, North Carolina, Margaret Colgate Love, http://www.sentencingproject.org/tmp/File/Collateral%20Consequences/NorthCarolina.pdf
- Pat Hansen, Governor's Clemency Office
- N.C. Gen. Stat. § 147-21
- N.C. Gen. Stat. §15A-838
- See generally News and Observer Pub. Co. v. Easley, 641 S.E.2d 698, 182 N.C.App. 14 (N.C. Ct. App. 2007); see also Bacon v. Lee, 549 S.E.2d 840, 353 N.C. 696 (N.C. 2001)(“[‘[Pardon] and commutation decisions have not traditionally been the business of courts; as such they are rarely, if ever, appropriate subjects for judicial review.’”)(citations omitted)
- See generally Bacon v. Lee, 549 S.E.2d 840, 353 N.C. 696 (N.C. 2001)(“[U]nlike judicial proceedings, the clemency decision-maker is generally not limited in discharging his or her extrajudicial function by rules of evidence, rules of procedure, or other indicia of judicial proceedings.”)(citations omitted)
- See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 147-25
- N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-149
- N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-208.6C
- N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-145
- N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-146
- N.C. Gen. Stat. § 148-84; see also N.C. Gen. Stat. § 148-82
- N.C. Gen. Stat. § 13-1
- N.C. Gen. Stat. § 13-2
- N.C. Gen. Stat. § 147-23
- N.C. Gen. Stat. § 147-24
- N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 14-7.1 and 14-7.7; see also State v. Clifton, 481 S.E.2d 393, 125 N.C.App. 471 (N.C. Ct. App. 1997)
- N.C. Rules Evid. 609
- 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(20) & (33)