North Dakota Pardon Information

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The Constitution of North Dakota gives the Governor the power to “grant reprieves, commutations, and pardons.”[1] The Governor can place any conditions, limitations, or restrictions on a pardon as he deems proper.[2] However, if the Governor grants a conditional pardon, the pardon must state the terms and conditions.[2] The Governor must sign all pardons.[2]

There is a body called the Pardon Advisory Board whose duty is to receive, investigate, and make recommendations to the Governor on pardon applications.[3] The Board is made up of five members who are appointed by the Governor; one of the members is the State Attorney General.[3] The Governor can dissolve the Board at any time.[3]

Because the focus of this site is on pardons, we will not discuss reprieves, commutations, remissions of fines and forfeitures, amnesty, parole, other types of clemency that may be available in North Dakota here. We will also not discuss judicial alternatives such as record expungment, 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.


The Governor can only grant you a pardon if you have been convicted of the offense.[2] Thus, you cannot receive a pardon if you are still being tried for the offense, or if the charges against you were dismissed.

Also, as a general rule, you will not receive a pardon unless you can demonstrate a “compelling need” for the pardon; either that, or you “have encountered a significant problem” because of your conviction (for example, you are not able to find employment or housing, or you are having a difficult time entering a professional school such as nursing/medical school, because of your conviction).[4]

Furthermore, the Governor can only grant you a pardon for a North Dakota State conviction.[4] 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 pardons are rarely granted in North Dakota. For example, in 2004 the Governor granted only 2 pardons and denied 17.[4] In 2012, 42 applications were received. 2 pardons were granted and 33 applications were denied.[5] 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 Dakota.

The Pardon Advisory Board generally meets twice a year.[6] If you want your pardon application to be considered at the Board’s next meeting, the Board must receive it at least ninety days before the meeting.[6] The Board’s meeting dates change every year. You should call the Board to find out what the meeting dates are for that particular year.

At the time of this writing, the Board has not made its application form available for you to access on the Internet. You can contact the Board directly at 701-328-6193 to have an application form mailed or possibly emailed to you. You can also write to the Board at:

Clerk, Pardon Advisory Board,
Division of Adult Services
P.O. Box 5521,
Bismark, ND.

If you dig deep enough, you may be able to find a sample North Dakota pardon/clemency application form on the Internet that other individuals or entities have placed there. If you find such forms, you should only use it as a preview. We highly suggest that you contact the Board in order to receive the office and most updated form; using an unofficial, outdated form can cause your application to be rejected.

The application form should be quite simple and self-explanatory, as it was created for the non-lawyer to use. The form will ask you for basic information such as your name, address, telephone number, date of birth, Social Security number, financial situation, employment history, and the type of clemency you are asking for (pardon, commutation of sentence, reprieve, remission of fines, etc.), among other things.

You will also be asked for information about all of your arrests, charges, and convictions. You will need to know the date, location, name of the offense, and the final disposition for each case. If you are missing information on any particular arrest or conviction, you should contact the law enforcement agency involved in that particular case and/or the court where you were charged or convicted.

If you do not remember all of your arrests, charges, and convictions, you may need to obtain a criminal history report for yourself. You can do this by contacting the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Criminal Records Section, at (701) 328-5500. You can also log onto its website at

If you have convictions in other states, you can obtain a more comprehensive, nationwide criminal report 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 The FBI’s website also has a list of local FBI offices you can call. 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.

There is a section on the application form that will ask you why you asking for a pardon. This is perhaps the most important part of the application. We suggest that you submit, on a separate sheet of paper, a detailed and genuine personal statement.

In your personal statement, 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. Submit any proof you may have (such a denial letters) to support your claims.

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, 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.

Also indicate on your personal statement all the positive things that have occurred in your life—for example, 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, high school diploma or GED, military certificates, marriage certificate, honors and awards, and other proof of your rehabilitation and good character. Explain what your future plans are and how a pardon would help or hinder those plans.

In writing your personal statement, remember the standard noted Part B: you must demonstrate either a “compelling need” for the pardon or that you have “encountered significant problems” because of your conviction.

Also, in writing your personal statement, keep in mind that the Board/Governor will not be 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. However you feel about the crime, you have 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. Of course, this would not apply if you are applying on the basis that you have conclusive evidence (e.g., DNA) proving you are completely innocent of the crime for which you were convicted.

Also, although not required, we 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.

If you have any questions about how to fill in the application form or the application process in general, don’t be afraid to call the Board at the above number. Your completed application, along with all supporting documents and letters of recommendation, should be mailed to the above address. Make sure you keep a copy of everything you send for your records. Once the Board receives your application, it becomes a public record.

After the Board receives your application, it will notify the district court and the State’s attorney in the county or counties where you were convicted.[7] Those individuals are then given an opportunity to make any statements/recommendations to the Board and/or the Governor regarding your application.[8] They may provide any information they know about you to the Board and/or Governor—such as the facts and circumstances surrounding your offense; your habits, associations, and reputation in the community; the reasons for why you were sentenced the way you were; and practically any other fact that may indicate whether you are capable of becoming a law-abiding citizen.[8] You should be upfront and cooperative with the Board, the Governor’s office, and their agents at all times.

The Board meets twice a year to review/consider pardon applications.[4] At its semi-annual meeting, the Board will decide how it will make its recommendation to the Governor on your pardon application. The Board will notify you of its recommendation.[4] After the Governor makes her final decision, her office will send you a letter notifying you of what the decision was.[4]

The decision of the Board and/or the Governor is final.[2] This means you cannot appeal to a court if you are unhappy with the decision.[2] However, if the Governor denies your application, you may ask her to reconsider your application within thirty days of the denial.[9]

The Effects

The primary effects of a pardon in North Dakota are that the pardon forgives you of your criminal act and relieves you from any further punishment for that conviction. However, unless the pardon specifically states otherwise, a pardon will not seal or expunge your conviction from your criminal record. A pardon does not make you “innocent” of the crime.[10] As in many other states, a pardon in North Dakota “forgives, but does not forget.”[11] Nevertheless, the fact that you have been granted a pardon for that particular offense may become part of your record.

There is a procedure to reduce a felony conviction down to a misdemeanor in North Dakota.[12] There is also a procedure to vacate a felony conviction which you received probation for.[13] We do not discuss these procedures further here. You should talk to an attorney if you are interested in those options.

In North Dakota, you only lose your rights to vote, to hold public office, and (with some exceptions) to sit on a jury if you have been convicted of a felony.[14] Furthermore, these rights are lost only while you are imprisoned; once you are released from prison, those rights should automatically be restored.[15] Therefore, a pardon is usually not necessary if you are only interested in regaining these basic rights.

If you were granted a conditional pardon and consequently released from prison early, a violation of any conditions of that pardon could cause you to be re-arrested and put back in prison.[16] In this situation, the pardon is said to be “rescinded.”[16]

As a general rule, you cannot be disqualified from pursuing a trade, occupation, or profession that requires a state license, permit, certificate, or registration (for example, a teaching, nursing, or law license) solely because of your conviction. However, the state can deny you such a license, permit, certificate, or registration based on your conviction if it determines that you have not been sufficiently rehabilitated or that the conviction has a direct bearing upon your ability to serve the public in that particular trade, occupation, or profession.

Nevertheless, because a pardon is a strong official statement that you have been rehabilitated and forgiven of the offense, you should let the particular state licensing agency know about the pardon if you are concerned that your conviction may be a problem. Although there is no law that says the state agency must accept the pardon as conclusive proof that you have been sufficiently rehabilitated, most licensing agencies will probably ignore the conviction if they know you have been pardoned.

If you are convicted of certain felonies (those involving violence or intimidation, for example), you lose your right to possess a gun for ten years following the date you are convicted, released from incarceration, parole, or probation (whichever comes last).[17] If you are convicted of felonies other than those ones, or if you are convicted of a class A misdemeanor involving violence or intimidation while using a firearm or weapon, you lose your right to possess a gun for five years following the date you are convicted, released from incarceration, probation, or parole (whichever comes last).[17]

A Governor’s pardon may restore your gun rights, but only if it specifically says so. If the pardon is silent about gun rights, you should contact the Governor’s office or the Pardon Advisory Board for clarification; do not assume that your gun rights are automatically restored upon receiving a pardon. The consequences of “unlawful possession of a firearm” may be severe.

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.[18] 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, 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.

If you receive a pardon on the grounds that you were actually innocent of the crime (for example, DNA conclusively proves that you were not the person who committed the crime), then that pardoned conviction cannot be used to enhance your sentence for any future conviction under North Dakota’s habitual/dangerous offender statute.[19] If you receive a pardon for other reasons, then the conviction can still be used against you for purposes of sentencing in future convictions.

Similarly, a conviction that has been pardoned on the grounds of innocence cannot be used to impeach you (attack your credibility) if you are ever a witness in a future court proceeding.[20] A conviction that has been pardoned on other grounds, on the other hand, can still be used to impeach you if you have been convicted of any felonies after you receive the pardon.[20]

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 Dakota 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 Dakota. 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.

External Links


  1. N.D. Const. art. 5, § 7
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 N.D. Cent. Code § 12-55.1-04
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 N.D. Cent. Code § 12-55.1-02
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 The Sentencing Project, North Dakota, Margaret Colgate Love,
  5. Pat Hansen, Governor's Clemency Office
  6. 6.0 6.1 North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Pardon Advisory Board,
  7. N.D. Cent. Code § 12-55.1-07
  8. 8.0 8.1 N.D. Cent. Code § 12-55.1-09
  9. N.D. Cent. Code § 12-55.1-08
  10. N.D. Cent. Code § 12-55.1-01
  11. See Attorney General Opinion, No. 85-44 (Dec. 03, 1985)(“[A] pardon acts to remove the punishment resulting from a criminal conviction, but does not act to remove the fact of guilt and other circumstances surrounding the commission of the crime.”)
  12. N.D. Cent. Code § 12.1-32-02
  13. N.D. Cent. Code § 12.1-32-07.1
  14. N.D. Cent. Code § 12.1-33-01
  15. N.D. Cent. Code § 12.1-33-03
  16. 16.0 16.1 See Attorney General Opinion, 93-F-08 (June 25, 1993)
  17. 17.0 17.1 N.D. Cent. Code § 62.1-02-01
  18. 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(20) & (33)
  19. N.D. Cent. Code § 12.1-32-09
  20. 20.0 20.1 N.D. Rules Evid. 609