Kentucky Pardon Information

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The Kentucky Constitution gives the Governor the “power to remit fines and forfeitures, commute sentences, grant reprieves and pardons, except in cases of impeachment.”[1] The Governor can place any conditions, restrictions or limitations on a pardon as he deems just.[2]

The Legislature has created a body called the Kentucky Parole Board whose duty is, upon the request of the Governor, to investigate pardon applications and make a recommendation to the Governor.[3] The Board is made up of nine full-time members and two part-time members who are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate.[4]

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


Under the current Governor’s policy, in order to qualify for a pardon, at least 7 years must have passed since you completed your sentence.[5] Of course, this is an informal policy that can change from one Governor to the next. In any event, your chances of getting a pardon are probably not high unless at least a few years have elapsed since you completed your sentence and you have lived a law-abiding life during that time. The rule of thumb is if you are unsure whether you are eligible to apply for a pardon, you should go ahead and apply; there is no harm in doing so.

If you are a prison inmate who would like to be released early, the appropriate type of clemency to apply for is a “commutation” rather than a pardon. A commutation is basically a reduction of your prison sentence. Your other option is to wait to be paroled. We do not discuss commutations or paroles here. If you would like to apply for a commutation, you can request the application materials by contacting the Governor’s office at the telephone number or address listed in the next section.

The Governor can only grant you a pardon for a Kentucky 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 getting a pardon is typically more difficult than any other type of clemency. The difficulty, of course, also depends on who the Governor is in office at the time you apply. If there are other options available for you (such as getting your conviction expunged through a court) which may achieve what you are trying to achieve, you should definitely look into those. In 2012, 439 pardon applications were received. No pardons were granted.[6]

Your chance of getting a pardon 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 can also depend 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 Kentucky. All pardon applications must be requested directly from the Governor’s office. Unfortunately, as of this writing the Governor’s office has not made its pardon application materials available for you to access on the Internet. You can request an application by calling 502-564-2611 or by writing to:

Commonwealth of Kentucky
Office of the Governor
700 Capitol Avenue, Suite 100
Frankfurt, KY 40601

If you would like a preview of what the pardon application looks like, the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation has made a copy available here: However, that form should be used as a preview only. You need to obtain an official application directly from the Governor’s office; otherwise your application may be rejected or not considered.

The pardon application is rather simple and self-explanatory. It asks for basic information such as your name, address, social security number, date of birth, marital status, information about your children (if any), and employment history, among other things.

You will also need to provide information about all of your arrests, charges, and convictions, including all misdemeanor and felony cases which you are not seeking a pardon for, except for traffic violations. You will need to know such things as the name of the offense, the county where you were arrested and charged, the date you were convicted, the name of the prosecutor, the name of the judge, the sentence you received, etc.

If you do not remember the details or whereabouts of a case, you should contact the Kentucky State Police, Records Section, by calling (502) 227-8713 to obtain a criminal report for yourself. The report should list all arrests, charges, and convictions you have received in Kentucky.

If you have criminal history 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., a (202) 324-3000, or logging onto its website at 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.

You will need to explain on a separate sheet of paper the “extenuating circumstances” supporting your request for a pardon. A pardon is an extraordinary measure. The Governor will only grant you one if you have a very good reason. Simply wanting to put your past behind you or have a clean criminal record will probably not suffice.

An example of an extraordinary circumstance may be your inability to pursue a particular job, trade or occupational license because of your conviction, which is preventing you from making an adequate income to support yourself and/or your family. Another example of an extraordinary circumstance may be you are facing deportation because of the conviction, and if deported you would be separated from your spouse and children. Be creative but sincere about your explanation. Support your claims with documentary evidence if possible—such as letters of denial from employers/landlords/licensing agencies, immigration documents pertaining to deportation, etc.

You should also use this opportunity to explain how you have turned your life around since you were convicted. Explain all 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, law-abiding behavior, etc. Again, support your claims with proof, such as copies of your college transcripts, high school diploma or GED, marriage certificate, military certificate, children’s birth certificates, professional licenses, awards and recognitions, etc.

In writing your personal statement, keep in mind that the Governor is not retrying you for the offense. Although you may feel the need to explain the facts of the crime from your perspective, avoid trying to make excessive excuses for your crime and arguing away your guilt. Whatever you feel about the crime, you had 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.

You must also submit letters of recommendation along with your application. These letters can come from family members, neighbors, past or present employers, co-workers, pastors, church members, elected officials, judges, prosecutors, and others in your community who are familiar with your good character. There is no limit on how many letters you can submit. If possible, you should submit letters from those who are not related to you, to avoid the appearance of bias.

Make a copy of everything you send for your records. Your entire application, including all supporting letters and documents, must be mailed to:

Office of the Governor
700 Capitol Avenue
Frankfurt, Kentucky 40601

Every Governor has his/her own way of handling pardon applications. Typically, once the Governor’s office receives your application, they will send it over to the Kentucky Parole Board to conduct an investigation and then report back to the Governor with a recommendation. [5]

The Parole Board will in turn send your application to the prosecutor for his/her recommendation.[5]; the prosecutor may choose to support, oppose, or take no position on your application. If the prosecutor does not respond within 30 days, the Parole Board will assume there are no objections.[5]

Typically, as part of the investigation, the Parole Board will also conduct a criminal background check on you and look into everything from your prison records to your credit, financial, mental, and psychological history. Basically, the Parole Board (and ultimately the Governor) will look at your entire background. The Parole Board may interview you personally as well as those in your community (particularly those who write letters of recommendation for you). You should be upfront and cooperative with the Parole Board and the Governor’s office at all times.

The Parole Board may or may not hold a hearing on your application. 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). If there is a hearing, typically it will be a public hearing, which means anyone from the public can attend. A government representative as well as the victim may be at the hearing to voice their opinions.

If possible, have friends, family members, neighbors, church members, and others in your community attend the hearing to show their support. The hearing would be an excellent opportunity for you 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.

Once the investigation is complete and the hearing is complete (if there is one), your application will be sent to the Governor, who will have a final say on whether or not you receive a pardon. The Governor’s decision is final. This means that, in most cases, you cannot appeal to a court if you are unhappy with the decision.[7]

The Effects

Receiving a pardon does not necessarily make you “innocent” of that particular crime again.[8] As in many other states, a Kentucky pardon “forgives but does not forget.” The primary effects of a pardon are that it forgives you of the crime you committed and restores your civil rights which you lost as a result of the pardon. The pardon does not erase or expunge your conviction from your criminal history record. Nevertheless, the pardon itself would become part of your criminal history record.[9]

Depending on your individual circumstance, you may be able to apply to a court to have your conviction expunged from your criminal record (whether or not you first receive a pardon) so that the general public cannot access it and you can deny ever receiving the conviction.[5] Judicial expungement is a whole separate process from applying for a pardon. You should talk to an attorney knowledgeable about judicial expungements if you are interested in this option.

The pardon will restore your voting rights, if it has not already been restored.[10] A pardon will also restore your right to serve on a jury, if this right has not already been restored.[11] Likewise, if you lost your right to hold elective office because of a conviction, a pardon would make you eligible to hold elective office again.[12]

Receiving a full pardon from the Governor will typically make you eligible to possess a gun again, if this right has not already been restored. [13] However, as we indicated in Part A, the Governor can place any conditions, limitations, or restrictions on a pardon as he deems proper. The Governor can, for example, grant you a pardon but forbid you from possessing a gun.[2] If you are unsure whether your gun rights are restored, you should seek clarification from the Governor’s office at the time you receive the pardon. The penalties for “unlawful possession of a firearm” can be severe.

However, 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” unless the pardon specifically says you cannot possess a gun.[14] 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 make you desire known during the application process.

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.

A pardon would also make you eligible for many types of employment, trade or occupational licenses again. For example, a pardon would make you eligible for a chiropractor license[15] and employment as a special law enforcement officer[16] or in a long-term care facility.[17]

If you are ever concerned that your conviction may be a problem when you apply for a job, housing, a trade or occupational license, you might want to send a copy of the pardon to the employer, landlord, or licensing agency. 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. Most employers and licensing agencies, and perhaps most landlords as well, will probably ignore a conviction on your record if they know you have received a pardon.

If you have been required to register as a sex offender in Kentucky because of a conviction, a pardon for that particular conviction will release you of your duty to continue registering.[18] Of course, if you have other convictions which require you to register and which have not been pardoned, you will be required to continue registering.

If you receive a pardon on the grounds of innocence (for example, DNA evidence conclusively proves that you did not commit the crime), then that pardon cannot be used to impeach you (attack your credibility) if you are ever a witness in a future court proceeding. [19] On the other hand, if you receive a pardon merely based on the grounds that you have been rehabilitated, then the pardon can be used against you in this context.

A conviction that has been pardoned can still be used against you to enhance your sentence under Kentucky’s “habitual criminal” law in the event you receive any future convictions.[20]

If you are given a conditional pardon and released from prison early as a result, a violation of the any of the conditions of the pardon can cause your pardon to be revoked and you to be thrown back in prison.

Finally, keep in mind that the effects of a pardon can vary from state to state. If you receive a pardon in Kentucky and then move to another state, that other state might forbid you to possess a gun or require you to register as a sex offender again even though the pardon lifted these restrictions away when you were living in Kentucky. Thus, you should always check the laws of the state you move to rather than just assume that the pardon (and its benefits) moves with you across state lines. Fortunately, states tend to honor each other’s pardons.

External Links


  1. Ky. Const. § 77.
  2. 2.0 2.1 See Cheatham v. Commonwealth of Ky., 131 S.W.3d 349 (Ky. Ct. App. 2004)(“‘[A] pardon can be full (absolute), conditional, or partial. A full pardon restores an offender’s civil rights without disqualification. A conditional pardon [is one that] does not become effective until the wrongdoer satisfies a prerequisite or that will be revoked upon the occurrence or some specified act. Finally, a partial pardon exonerates the offender from some but not all of the punishment or legal consequences of a crime. In Kentucky, the constitutional power to pardon encompasses the power to issue conditional pardons. This is also true of the power to issue partial pardons.’”)(citation omitted).
  3. Ky. Rev. Stat. § 439.450.
  4. Ky. Rev. Stat. § 439.320.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 The Sentencing Project, Kentucky, Margaret Colgate Love,
  6. Selina Bowman, Legal Affairs from the Governor's Office
  7. See Chandler v. Patton, 2008-KY-1125.084 (Ky. Ct. App. 2008)(unpublished opinion)(“[A]s the Governor is vested with a broad and virtually unfettered discretion to pardon, the courts of this state are without constitutional authority to pass on the wisdom of such an action. Doing so would be a brazen violation of the separation of powers.”)(citing Fletcher v. Graham, 192 S.W.3d 350 (Ky. 2006)); see also Jackson v. Rose, 3 S.W.2d 641, 223 Ky. 285 (1928)(“No court has the power to review the action of the executive in granting a pardon, for that would be the exercise of the pardoning power in part, and any attempt of the courts to interfere with the Executive in the exercise of the pardoning power would be a manifest usurpation of authority.”)(citation omitted).
  8. See Leonard v. Corrections Cabinet, 828 S.W.2d 668 (Ky. Ct. App. 1992)(“Even a pardon does not restore character so that a disbarred lawyer is entitled to reinstatement.”)(citation omitted).
  9. Ky. Admin. Rules & Regs., R. 30:010.
  10. Ky. Rev. Stat. § 116.025.
  11. Ky. Rev. Stat. § 29A.080.
  12. Ky. Rev. Stat. § 119.277.
  13. Ky. Rev. Stat. § 527.040.
  14. 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(20) & (33).
  15. Ky. Rev. Stat. § 312.085.
  16. Ky. Rev. Stat. § 61.906.
  17. Ky. Rev. Stat. § 216.533.
  18. Ky. Rev. Stat. § 17.578.
  19. Ky. R. Evid. 609.
  20. See Leonard v. Corrections Cabinet, 828 S.W.2d 668 (Ky. Ct. App. 1992)(“[A] pardon does not preclude the pardoned offense from enhancing punishment for an habitual criminal.”)(citing Stewart v. Commonwealth, 479 S.W.2d 23 (1972).