Illinois Pardon Information

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In Illinois, as in most other states, the power to pardon a person for a crime is vested in the Governor. The Illinois Constitution says that the “Governor may grant reprieves, commutations and pardons, after conviction, for all offenses on such terms as he thinks proper.”[1]In granting a pardon, the Governor can place any conditions or restrictions on a pardon as he deems appropriate.[2]

The Legislature, on the other hand, has the power to regulate the manner in which a person can apply for a pardon.[2] The Legislature has created a body called the Prison Review Board. This Board has the power of “review and recommendation for the exercise of executive clemency by the Governor.”[3] The Board is made up of 15 full-term members appointed by the Governor and approved by the Senate.[3]

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


According to the Prison Review Board, any type of conviction is eligible for a pardon in Illinois.[4] This means you can apply for a felony or misdemeanor conviction.[5] Moreover, there is no waiting period; you can apply for a pardon as soon as you are convicted of the crime.[4]

However, you cannot receive a pardon for a federal or an out-of-state conviction.[5] 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.

Keep in mind that the Board/Governor receives hundreds of applications for pardons every year.[5] Unfortunately, the vast majority of these applications are rejected. Just to give you an idea, between 2002 and 2006, the Governor only granted 63 pardons while denying 833 of them.[6] In 2012, 591 applications were received. 159 pardons were granted and 431 applications were denied.[7]

Your chance of getting a pardon largely depends on your individual circumstances. Naturally, the older your conviction(s) 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 Illinois. The procedure to apply for a pardon in Illinois is a little cumbersome as compared to other states.

All applications for a pardon must first be filed with the Prison Review Board.[8] The application must be in the form of a petition, and it must be typed. The Board wants it to be in a narrative or essay format (as opposed to a bunch of bullet points), and it must be addressed to Governor.

The Board has listed on its website very detailed instructions on how to apply: There is also a sample petition there that you can follow in writing your own petition. If you cannot access the Board’s website or the instruction page, call the Board directly at 217-782-7273.

In your petition, you must include ALL of the following information:

  1. For each conviction you wish to have pardoned, you must provide:
    • The name of the offense
    • The county where you were convicted
    • The case number for the conviction
    • The sentence you received
    • The date you were sentenced
    • How long you served time in prison and the date you were discharged
    • Whether you were convicted by a judge (bench trial) or a jury, or whether you pleaded guilty
    • If the case is currently being appealed, provide the status of the appeal
  2. The name under which you were convicted, any aliases you may have used, your social security number, and your state prison number (if any). If you have applied for a pardon before, provide the month and year in which that pardon was considered.
  3. A detailed statement of the facts in each case. Include dates, places, and surrounding circumstances. Include your version of the events. However, keep in mind that the Board/Governor is not retrying you for the offense. Although it is okay to explain the events of the case as you perceived them, avoid trying to make excessive excuses for your crime and arguing away your guilt. Whatever you feel about the crime, you had already been convicted. The Board/Governor is probably more interested in seeing your remorse for the crime, and your understanding of its effects on the victim(s) and society, than anything else.
  4. A complete criminal history. List every instance in your life in which you were arrested or charged with a crime and what the outcome was (convicted, dismissed, etc.). Include incidences in other states as well. You do not have to mention minor traffic violations (speeding, etc.). Again, if any of those arrests or charges resulted in a conviction, you must also detail the facts surrounding the case.
    If you do not remember the details of all of your arrests/convictions, then you may need to obtain a criminal record for yourself to refresh your memory. For Illinois arrests/convictions, you can contact the Illinois State Police Processing Unit, Bureau of Identification, at 815-740-5160 to obtain your criminal record.
    If you have convictions in other states, you can obtain a more comprehensive, nationwide criminal report from the FBI by going onto its website at Alternatively, 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.
  5. Your personal life history. Here, you must include the date and place of birth, education history, employment history, marital status, and whether you have ever served in the military (if so, you must submit proof of military service along with your petition). Emphasize the positive things that have occurred in your life since your conviction—such as educational achievements, stable employment, marriage and children, community involvement, charitable services and donations, etc. Submit copies of your college transcript, high school diploma or GED, honors and awards, and other proof of your rehabilitation and good character. Explain what your future plans are and how a pardon may hurt or hinder those plans.
    Remember, your whole petition must be in the form of a narrative or essay. Thus, do not simply list those things in bullet format.
  6. You must give your reasons for applying for a pardon. This part of your application/petition is highly important. Although you do not have to go on for 10 pages here, you must make your statement compelling, enough so that the reader would want to give you the pardon. Simply saying you want a clean criminal record is not enough.
    Tell the Board/Governor how your conviction has negatively affected you and/or your family. For example, 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, explain this and 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.
  7. Finally, your petition must include the following statement: “I declare under penalty of perjury that all of the assertions made in this petition are complete, truthful and accurate.”

All of the information above must be included in your petition. The Board will reject your petition if anything is missing. Make sure to include your current mailing address within the petition itself (and not simply on the envelope).

Again, your petition must be addressed to the Governor, and it must be signed in front of a notary public before you send it away. You can find a notary public in most banks; they typically charge a small fee, usually depending on whether you have an account with that particular bank.
When everything is complete, you must send an original and three copies of your completed application (this includes three copies of all supporting documents, such as college transcripts and military certificates) to the following address:

Prisoner Review Board
319 East Madison, Suite A
Springfield, Illinois 62701

In addition to the three copies above, you must send an identical copy of your petition, including any supporting documents, to the following individuals:

  1. The judge who sentenced you for the conviction (if the sentencing judge is no longer working at that court, send it to the attention of the chief judge in that circuit)
  2. The current county attorney in the county you were convicted. If the county is Cook County, address it to Cook County State’s Attorney, Room 11D38, 2650 South California Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 6608.

After you have sent copies of your petition to the sentencing judge and county attorney, you must then provide proof to the Board that you did that. You can do this by either sending in an affidavit with a statement that you did send the copies plus a notary public’s signature, or sending in a receipt of your mailing through registered or certified mail. It is easier to simply send the copies by registered or certified mail, and then submit the receipt to the Board. Keep in mind, however, that proof must be sent to the Board along with your petition (meaning you must send the sentencing judge’s and county attorney’s copies away either before or at the same time you send your original and three copies to the Board).

If you want the Board to hold a public hearing on your application, you must request it in your petition. If a hearing is held, you can bring supporters to speak out for you. Those who oppose your petition can also attend and speak out against you.

Unless you are incarcerated, we suggest you request a hearing AND attend. The hearing is an excellent opportunity to put a human face onto your petition; it lets the Board not only see you in person but also the amount of support you have in your community.

Even if you are incarcerated and thus cannot attend the hearing, a representative may attend the hearing to speak on your behalf. If you intend to have witnesses testify at the hearing for you, you must submit the names and addresses of those witnesses at the time you submit your request for a hearing. A maximum of four persons may speak during the presentation of your case, and you are limited to a total of twenty minutes.

After the hearing (if any), the Board will send its recommendation to the Governor within 60 days. The Governor then has the final say on whether you receive a pardon.[8] There is no deadline for the Governor to make a decision. Once the Governor makes his decision, the Board will notify you of the result.[8]

The Governor’s decision is final.[9] This means you cannot appeal to a court if you are unhappy with his or her decision. However, you can re-apply in a year.[10] You should be upfront and cooperative with the Board, the Governor, and their agents at all times during the application process.

The Effects

Having a pardon does not necessarily mean your conviction is erased or expunged from your criminal record. Nor does it mean you are suddenly “innocent” of the crime. A pardon serves primarily to forgive you of the crime you committed[11], to relieve you of the legal penalties and disabilities placed on you because of your conviction, and to restore civil rights which you lost as a result of the conviction.[12] But again, the Governor can place any conditions, limitations, or restrictions on your pardon if he deems it appropriate to do so.[2]

You can apply for an expungement of your conviction records only if the pardon specifically allows you to do so.[13] Even then, your conviction can still be used against you in the future if you commit another similar crime or for sentencing purposes if you commit another felony (whether or not it is similar to the crime that was pardoned).[13] However, with a few small exceptions, a conviction that has been expunged cannot be inquired into or considered by private or public entities in employment or licensing decisions.[14]

If the pardon does not specifically allow you to expunge your conviction, there may be other ways to do so, depending on the nature of your offense and other factors. If you want to know more about “expunging” or “sealing” a conviction, you should talk to an attorney who specializes in such matters. The procedure typically involves a motion or petition to the court that sentenced you, and is often more formal and adversarial than the procedure to apply for a pardon.

Although you lose your rights to vote and to hold public office in Illinois if you are convicted of a felony, these rights are restored once you have completed your sentence.[15] Thus, unless you are still serving your sentence, a pardon is probably not necessary if these are the only rights you care about. A pardon is absolutely not necessary if you only want to be a juror, because you are not disqualified from serving on a jury in Illinois even if you have been convicted of a felony.[16]

A pardon does not restore your gun rights in Illinois, however. If you want to restore your gun rights, you must do that through the Illinois State Police.[17] You can visit its website at or call it at 217-782-7980 for more information about how to restore your gun rights.

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. You should always check with the laws of the state you move to rather than just assume that the benefits of a pardon you receive in one state moves with you across state lines. Fortunately, states tend and honor each other’s pardons.

External Links


  1. Ill. Const. art. V, § 12.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 People v. Morris, 219 Ill.2d 373, 848 N.E.2d 1000 (Ill. 2006)(‚"Pardons may be full or partial, removing some or all of the legal consequences of a crime, and may be absolute or imposed with conditions.‚"); People v. Collins, 815 N.E. 860, 351 Ill.App.3d 959 (Ill. Ct. App. 2004)(‚"While a full pardon freely and unconditionally absolves a person from all the legal consequences of a crime, a limited pardon remits only a portion of the punishment or absolves a defendant from only a portion of the legal consequences of his crime.‚")(citations omitted).
  3. 3.0 3.1 730 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/3-3-1.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Prisoner Review Board, Frequently Asked Questions,
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 The Sentencing Project, Illinois, Margaret Colgate Love,
  6. The Sentencing Project, Illinois, Margaret Colgate Love,
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 730 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/3-3-13.
  9. People v. Mata, 819 N.E.2d 1261, 353 Ill.App.3d 784 (Ill. Ct. App. 2004)(‚"The Governor‚Äôs power is essentially unreviewable.‚")(citations omitted).
  10. The Sentencing Project, Illinois, Margaret Colgate Love,
  11. Talarico v. Dunlap, 687 N.E.2d 325, 177 Ill.2d 185 (Ill. 1997)(‚" Since the very essence of a pardon is forgiveness or remission of penalty, assessed on the basis of the conviction of the offender, a pardon implies guilt; it does not obliterate the fact of the commission of the crime and the conviction thereof.‚")(citation omitted).
  12. See People v. Bannister, 880 N.E.2d 607 (Ill. Ct. App. 2007)(‚"A pardon is an executive action that officially nullifies punishment or other legal consequences of a crime.‚").
  13. 13.0 13.1 20 Ill. Comp. Stat. 2630/5(c).
  14. 20 Ill. Comp. Stat. 2630/12.
  15. 730 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/5-5-5; see also Ill. Const. art. III, § 2.
  16. 705 Ill. Comp. Stat. 305/2.
  17. 720 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/24.1.1.