Delaware Pardon Information
The Delaware Constitution says that the Governor “shall have power to remit fines and forfeitures and to grant reprieves, commutations of sentence and pardons, except in cases of impeachment.” However, before the Governor can pardon someone, that person’s application must have gone through a body called the Board of Pardons.
The Board is made up of the Chancellor, the Lieutenant Governor, the Secretary of State, the State Treasurer, and the Auditor of Accounts. The Board must hold a full hearing on the pardon application and a majority of the members must make a positive recommendation on the person’s application before the Governor can grant him the pardon. However, the Governor is not bound by the recommendations of the Board.
Because the focus of this site is on pardons, we will not discuss reprieves, commutations, remission of fines and forfeitures, parole, and other types of clemency that may be in Delaware. We will also not discuss judicial alternatives such as record expungement, record sealing, setting aside or dismiss of convictions. You should consult an attorney if you think any of these alternative options may be more appropriate for your personal situation.
Under the Board of Pardons’ informal rules, you are not eligible to apply for a pardon until at least 3 or 5 years have passed since you completed your sentence (including any probation, parole, etc.); the length of the waiting period depends on the offense. This waiting period can be waived if there is a legitimate hardship, such as a pending deportation or a job offer requiring a pardon.
The Board can only recommend, and the Governor can only grant, a pardon for a Delaware state conviction. 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.
You can apply for a pardon for a misdemeanor or felony conviction.  The rule of thumb is if you are unsure whether you are eligible to apply, you should go ahead and apply, as there is no harm in doing so.
What is your chance of getting a pardon? This 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 could also depend on the Governor who reviews your application; some Governors are more lenient than others in handing out pardons. Just to give you an idea, in 2004, the Board received 173 applications and recommended 141 favorably; the Governor ultimately granted 115 pardons that year (about 66% of those received). In contrast, in 2003, the Board received 131 applications and recommended 115 favorably; the Governor ultimately granted only 32 applications that year (only 24% of those received). In 2012, 637 applications for pardons and commutations were received. 203 applications were granted and 17 were denied. However, it should be noted that the statistics include files from previous years in the Governor grant/denied numbers. Due to a backlog in cases and other factors, the Governor has only acted on cases heard up to June 2012. Cases heard after that time are still pending a Governor’s decision.
The Application Process
There are no fees to apply for a pardon in Delaware. The Board of Pardons meets every month to consider pardon applications. You can file an application either on your own or through a representative (such as an attorney). As the Board indicates on its website, there is not an official “application form.” The pardon process is a simple, 9-step process as follows:
Step 1. Obtain a copy of your criminal record. You can find out how to obtain a copy of your criminal record from the State Bureau of Identification, Division of State Police, by calling (302) 739-2134 or writing to P.O. Box 430, Dover, DE 19903. Make sure your criminal record is complete.
If you have convictions in other states, you can obtain a more comprehensive, nationwide criminal report for yourself 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.
Make sure your final application lists all of your convictions, including all felonies and misdemeanors for which you paid a fine, served jail, prison, probation, or parole.
Step 2. Obtain a certified copy of the court docket and sentencing order for each offense that resulted in a guilty outcome (this includes any guilty pleas). This can be obtained from the clerk’s office of the court where you were convicted and sentenced. The clerk’s office will usually charge you a small fee for this service.
Step 3. Fill out the Board of Pardons Cover Sheet and any additional continuation sheets if needed. These sheets can be obtained from the Board’s website at http://pardons.delaware.gov/Bopforms.shtml. If you cannot access the webpage or the sheets themselves, you can call the Board directly at 302-739-4111 to have it sent to you (they might simply email them to you if you have an email account).
Step 4. On a separate sheet of paper, you must list the reason(s) for why you are applying for a pardon. This is a very important step. Your personal statement should be detailed, honest, and grammatically well written. Simply saying “I want to have a clean record” is not 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, explain how being separated from you family will negatively affect you and your family. If you are pursuing a particular career or a license in a particular trade or profession that requires you to obtain a pardon, explain this and send documents, letters, or other types of proof from a prospective employer or licensing agency verifying this requirement. Perhaps explain what your plans are in the event you are granted a pardon.
Furthermore, in your personal statement you should detail all the positive things that have occurred in your life, including educational achievements, new or steady employment, marriage and children, community involvement, charitable donations, awards and recognitions, etc. Send copies of your college transcripts, high school diploma or GED, marriage certificate, children’s birth certificates, military certificates, awards and recognitions, and other documents that show your rehabilitation and positive character.
However, in writing your personal statement, keep in mind that the Board/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 arguing away your guilt. Whatever you feel about the crime, you had already been found guilty. The Board/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.
Step 5. On the same sheet of paper as the personal statement in step 4, you must write a short history of every case you are trying to obtain a pardon for. This includes explaining in detail the facts giving rise to the conviction: who was involved, how you were arrested, the date and location, etc. Again, don’t try to make excuses for what happened (e.g., “I was framed”). You should err on the side of honesty and remorse.
Step 6. You must provide a Statement of All Pending Proceedings. This simply means telling the Board whether there are any cases currently pending against you, in any court, state or federal. If there are, you must state what the nature of the case is, which court it is in, and what the status of the case is (for example, “Trial set for May 12, 2009”). If there are no cases currently pending against you, simply state “I have no proceedings pending.” This can be on the same sheet of paper as that in steps 4 and 5, or it can be on a separate sheet of paper.
Step 7. You may, but are not required to, submit letters of character reference from people who know you well and can say good things about you. We strongly encourage you to do this. The letters can come from friends, family, church members, neighbors, employers, your pastor, etc. The letters should state how the writer knows you and why he or she thinks you should be granted the pardon. Be sure to have the writer include his or her contact info in the letter.
Step 8. You must send a notice to the judge who sentenced you, the Attorney General, the Chief of Police for the city or county where you were arrested, and the Superintendent of the Delaware State Police. We suggest you call the Board at the time you apply in order to get the most current names and addresses of these individuals. The Board’s number is 302-739-4111.
The notice must include the following information:
a) The tentative date, time, and place of the meeting. Your meeting date depends on which application deadline applies to your case. You can find out all application deadlines and meeting dates on the Board’s website, at http://pardons.delaware.gov/meetings.shtml. b) The offense(s), date(s) of arrest, the reason(s) for why you are applying for a pardon, and your date of birth.
This notice must be sent via certified mail to those individuals at least 37 days before the hearing date.
Step 9. Send the original and 5 copies of everything above (including the notice in step 8) to the following address:
Secretary of State’s Office
401 Federal Street, Suite 3
Dover, DE 19901.
Make a copy of everything you send for your own records. The Board/Governor will likely not return anything you send to them. Avoid sending the original copy of any document unless you absolutely need to.
Certain crimes require a psychiatric or psychological examination before you can appear before the Board. The list of crimes that require such examination is on the Board’s website at http://pardons.delaware.gov/mental_health.shtml. This includes most violent and sex-related crimes. If this examination is required, you must file a copy of the psychiatric or psychological report with the Secretary of State (address listed above) along with your entire application. The purpose of the examination is for the Board to gauge your mental and emotional health and your risk of re-offending.
The Attorney General will notify the victim(s) that you are applying for a pardon. The victim(s) as well as a representative of the Attorney General’s office will have an opportunity to present their views to the Board regarding your pardon application.
The Board will schedule a public hearing to consider your application. Members of the public may attend, and anyone with an interest in your application will have an opportunity to speak. You should bring family, friends, church members, neighbors, your boss, co-workers, and others who can speak out in your support. Keep in mind that everything they (and you) say at the hearing will be under oath.
You must look and act your best at the hearing. 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). The hearing is an excellent opportunity for you to put a human face onto your application. It lets the Board see you in person as well as 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.
Soon after the hearing, the Board will deliberate on your application and make a decision whether to recommend you favorably or unfavorably for a pardon. The Board will consider such things as the nature and age of your offense, evidence of your rehabilitation (including contributions to your community and society), your remorse, whether there is an employment-related need for the pardon, official support for your application, and the extent of the victim’s opposition to your application.
The Board will send its recommendation to the Governor, who has the final say on whether to grant or deny your application. The entire process can take several months to complete.
Like in most states, under Delaware law you lose many of your civil rights (such as owning a gun, voting, and serving on a jury) if you have been convicted of a felony. However, Delaware law states that “the granting of an unconditional pardon by the Governor shall have the effect of fully restoring all civil rights to the person pardoned.”
The rights restored by a pardon include, but are not limited to, the right to vote, the right to serve on a jury, the right to purchase and possess a deadly weapon, and the right to hold public office. Nevertheless, the law also says that the Governor can place any lawful conditions/restrictions on your pardon as he deems proper.
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. Fortunately, as stated above, a Delaware pardon restores your gun rights in most cases, unless the Governor specifically says otherwise.
Also, in most cases federal immigration authorities cannot rely solely on a conviction that has been pardoned for the purpose of deporting you from the country. If immigration is not an issue for you, this benefit is obviously irrelevant.
In addition to restoring your civil rights, a pardon also relieves you of employment-related and other legal barriers as a result of your conviction. If you are ever concerned that a conviction may be a problem when you apply for a job, housing, a trade or occupational license, you may want to send the employer, landlord, or licensing agency a copy of the pardon.
Most employers and licensing agencies, and perhaps most landlords, will probably ignore your conviction if they know you have received a pardon. A pardon is, after all, an official statement from the highest executive officer of the State forgiving you of the crime and essentially declaring you a good person again.
However, keep in mind that a Delaware pardon is about forgiveness, not forgetfulness. Getting a pardon does not mean you are suddenly “innocent” of the crime. A pardon does not remove your conviction from your criminal record. Once you get a pardon, your record will simply state that you have been granted a pardon for that particular conviction. This is so even if you have your civil rights restored (gun rights, voting rights, etc.). Criminal convictions stay on your record for a very long time in Delaware. 
However, if you receive an unconditional pardon (a pardon with no conditions), you are eligible to apply to a court to have your conviction expunged. You will need to show by a “preponderance of the evidence” (meaning “more likely than not”) that it would be “manifest injustice” to keep your conviction on your criminal record. Certain crimes (e.g., embezzlement, sex offenses) are not eligible. Talk to an attorney to see if you qualify for judicial expungement and what the process is. You may also be eligible to expunge a criminal charge that resulted in a dismissal or acquittal.
Also, your conviction records for a particular crime are automatically expunged if one of three things occurs:
- 10 years have passed since you died
- You have reached the age of 80
- You have reached the age of 75 and have not had any criminal activities for the last 40 years.
Your juvenile conviction is automatically expunged once you receive a Governor’s pardon.
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 Delaware and then move to another state, that other state might take away your gun rights again even if the pardon removed those restrictions on you while you were living in Delaware. 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.
- Delaware on Wikipedia
- Delaware 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
- Del. Const. art. VII, § 1.
- Delaware Board of Pardons, http://pardons.delaware.gov/
- The Sentencing Project, Delaware, Margaret Colgate Love, http://www.sentencingproject.org/tmp/File/Collateral%20Consequences/Delaware.pdf
- Judy A. Smith, Board of Pardons
- The Sentencing Project, Delaware, Margaret Colgate Love, http://www.sentencingproject.org/tmp/File/Collateral%20Consequences/Delaware.pdf; Del. Code § 11-43-4362(c).
- See, e.g., Del. Code §§ 15-17-1701 (voting), 10-45-4509 (jury service), and 11-5-1448 (gun possession).
- Del. Code § 11-43-4364.
- 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(20) & (33).
- See State v. Skinner, 632 A.2d 82 (Del. 1993)(‚"[A] pardon does not erase guilt.‚")
- See State v. Skinner, 632 A.2d 82 (Del. 1993)(‚"While a pardon removes all legal punishments and disabilities attached to a conviction, we hold that it cannot erase the fact that the offender was convicted of an infamous crime and it is the fact of conviction alone, not its continuing viability, which renders the offender ineligible to hold public office.‚")
- See Del. Code § 11-85-8506.
- Del. Code § 11-43-4375.
- Del. Code § 11-85-8506(c).
- Del. Code § 10-9-1013.