Vermont Pardon Information
The Constitution of Vermont gives the Governor the power to grant pardons, reprieves, and remit fines. There is a body called the Parole Board which, upon the Governor’s request, can accept, investigate, hold hearings, advise, the make recommendations to the Governor on pardon applications. The Parole Board is made up of five members who are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. The members serve for three-year terms.
Because the focus of this site is on pardons, we will not discuss reprieves, commutations, remission of fines and forfeitures, parole, or other types of clemency that may be available in Vermont 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.
In recent years, the Governor has only granted pardons where there is a “compelling reason” to do so. The key factor in determining whether there is a “compelling reason” is if the conviction is preventing you from getting a job or pursuing a particular profession (not being able to receive a teaching or nursing license because of the conviction, for example).
Technically, you can apply for a pardon even if you are currently confined in prison. In this case, the Governor would typically grant you a conditional pardon, which is much like probation and parole. As the name suggests, there would be conditions which you must abide by, otherwise the Governor could revoke the pardon and throw you back in prison.
However, if you are no longer serving a sentence, there is an informal rule under the administration of Governor James Douglas that at least 10 years must have passed since you were convicted of the particular crime you are seeking a pardon for. Of course, this is an informal rule which may or may not be relaxed with a different Governor and administration.
The Governor can only grant a pardon for a Vermont 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 convictio
Suffice it to say, it is quite difficult to obtain a pardon in Vermont. Governor Douglas’ philosophy is that a pardon “has to be saved for those situations that are extraordinary whether there was a miscarriage of justice or a penalty that does not fit the crime where situations are quite unique.” Only about 10% of pardon applications have been granted in recent years. In 2012, 14 applications were received. No pardons were granted and 8 applications were denied.
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 Vermont. All applications must be requested directly from the Governor’s office. If you try to obtain the application from another individual or entity, it may be rejected. To request a pardon, it is available the Vermont website http://vcic.vermont.gov/Criminal%20History%20Repository/Expungement-Sealing-Pardon%20Information or call the Governor’s office at 802-828-3333 or 1-800-649-6825. You can also write to:
Governor James Douglas
109 State Street, Pavilion
Montpelier, VT 05609-0101
The application form should be rather simple and self-explanatory, as it was created for the non-lawyer to use. The form asks for basic information such as your name, address, date of birth, social security number, and marital status, among other things.
The form also asks you to list information about the convictions which you would like a pardon for, including the name of the offense, the date you were convicted, and the sentence you received for that offense. If you do not have sufficient information about a particular conviction, you should contact the law enforcement agency involved in the case and/or the court where you were convicted.
If you do not remember all of your convictions, you should go to your nearest local police station and ask how you can obtain a criminal background report for yourself. The report should list all arrests and convictions which you have received in Vermont.
If you have convictions in other states, you can obtain a more comprehensive, nationwide criminal report from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. 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. 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.
The form also asks you to describe the circumstances of each offense. This is where a police report from the law enforcement agency—detailing the facts of the case—would help you if you do not remember the circumstances of a particular offense. Again, if you go to a local police station they can show you how to obtain the police report for a particular offense.
You are expected to demonstrate that you have been a good citizen and have led an exemplary life since your conviction. We suggest that you submit, on a separate sheet of paper, a detailed and genuine personal statement explaining why you need a pardon.
In your personal statement, do not simply say you want a clean criminal record. Tell the Parole 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 you and your family an adequate standard of living. Submit any proof you may have (such as denial letters) that 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 in 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 you.
In writing your personal statement, keep in mind that the Parole Board/Governor will not be retrying you for the offense. Although you may want 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 Parole 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.
You will be expected to provide four letters of recommendation from people other than you and your family members. These letters can come from neighbors, friends, your pastor, church members, your employer, etc. The writer should be able to attest to your character and good reputation in the community.
Finally, your application will need to be notarized, which means it must be signed in front of a notary public. You can find a notary public in most banks. They may charge a small fee, usually depending on whether you have an account with that bank.
Your completed application, along with all supporting documents and letters of recommendation, should be sent to the Governor’s office at the above address. Remember to keep a copy of everything you send for your records.
Once the Governor receives your completed application, the Governor may either send your application to the Parole Board to conduct an investigation or he will conduct the investigation through some other means. You should be upfront and cooperative with the Parole Board, the Governor, and their agents at all times.
If you are currently confined in prison, the investigation will be conducted by the Commissioner of Corrections, the Area Manager, and/or the Facility Superintendent of the correctional facility where you are confined. Regardless of who does the investigation, the Governor has the final say on whether or not you receive a pardon. The Governor can place any conditions a pardon as he deems proper, as long as the conditions are not unlawful, unreasonable, immoral or impossible to perform.
By submitting your application, you authorize the Governor to have access to your criminal record. By submitting your application, you also agree to let your name be disclosed to the public if the Governor grants you a pardon.
The Governor may or may not hold a hearing in your case. He may also ask the Parole Board to conduct the hearing. Hearings are seldom held. If a hearing is held, you should 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. If allowed, have family members, friends, your pastor, neighbor, or other persons there to support you. A hearing is a good opportunity for you to put a human face onto your application; it lets the Governor/Parole Board see you in person as well as the support you have in your community.
You will receive an explanation from the Governor whether you are granted or denied a pardon. The Governor’s decision is final. This means you cannot appeal to a court if you are unhappy about the decision.
A pardon in Vermont is an act of grace which serves to relieve you of the legal punishments, consequences, and disqualifications of the specific crime you were committed of. This means, for example, that if you lost your driver’s license because of a particular conviction, once you have been pardoned of that conviction your license must be re-instated. A pardon would also allow you to serve on a jury again if you lost that right because of the pardoned conviction.
However, getting a pardon does not mean you are suddenly innocent of the crime you have already been convicted of. As in many other states, a pardon in Vermont “forgives but does not forget.” There may be a process to judicially expunge your conviction after you receive a pardon, depending on your individual circumstances. If you are interested in getting an expungement, you should talk to an attorney to find out whether you qualify and what the process would be.
If you a given a pardon as a result of DNA evidence showing you were innocent of the crime you were convicted of, then your name can be expunged from the sex offender and all other registries in Vermont, and you can legally deny that you were ever convicted of that particular crime. Of course, if you have any other convictions that require you to register as a sex offender and that have not been pardoned you will probably have to continue registering and cannot deny that you were convicted of those crimes.
A pardon is a strong official statement of forgiveness and rehabilitation. If you are concerned that your conviction may continue to be a problem when you apply for a job, housing, a trade or occupational license, you may want to send a copy of your pardon to the employer, landlord, or licensing agency so they know that you have been pardoned of that particular crime. Most employers, landlords, and licensing agencies will probably ignore your conviction if they know you have been pardoned.
The pardon will become a public record. Also, if you were granted (and accepted) a conditional pardon, you must abide by the conditions of the pardon or else the Governor can revoke the pardon. 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 you to be rearrested and thrown back in prison.
A conviction that has been pardoned cannot be used to impeach you (attack your credibility) if you are ever a witness in a future court proceeding, so long as you were not convicted of a felony after you received the pardon. However, if you receive a pardon based on innocence—for example, DNA clears you of the crime—then the pardon cannot be used to impeach you as a witness under any circumstance.
You do not lose your right to vote in Vermont upon being convicted of a felony; you can vote by absentee ballot even if you are confined in prison. Likewise, you generally do not lose your right to possess a gun, although a court can prohibit you from possessing a gun as a condition of your probation. Therefore, if voting and gun rights are the only rights you are concerned about, a pardon might not be necessary.
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. 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.
Also, 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 Vermont 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 Vermont. 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.
- Vermont on Wikipedia
- Vermont 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
- Vt. Const. chap. II, § 20
- Vt. Stat. tit. 28, § 453
- The Sentencing Project, Vermont, Margaret Colgate Love, http://www.sentencingproject.org/tmp/File/Collateral%20Consequences/Vermont.pdf
- See Vt. Stat. tit. 28, § 809
- See, e.g., In re Charles Lorette, 126 Vt. 286, 228 A.2d 790 (Vt. 1967); In re Charizio, 120 Vt. 208, 138 A.2d 430 (Vt. 1957)
- Sarah London, Counsel to the Governor
- Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, Vermont, http://www.cjpf.org/clemency/Vermont.html
- State v. Pierce, 657 A.2d 192, 163 Vt. 192 (Vt. 1995)(“The Governor has the unreviewable power to grant pardons in most case.”)(citations omitted); se also Doe v. Salmon, 135 Vt. 443, 378 A.2d 512 (Vt. 1977)(“The exercise of the pardoning power is within the sole discretion of the Governor and is no judicially reviewable except as to questions of validity.”)
- Doe v. Salmon, 135 Vt. 443, 378 A.2d 512 (Vt. 1977); Brown v. Tatro, 134 Vt. 248, 356 A.2d 512 (Vt. 1976)
- Brown v. Tatro, 134 Vt. 248, 356 A.2d 512 (Vt. 1976)
- Needs citation
- Needs citation
- Vt. Stat. tit. 13, § 5569
- See generally Doe v. Salmon, 135 Vt. 443, 378 A.2d 512 (Vt. 1977)
- See, e.g., In re Charles Lorette, 126 Vt. 286, 228 A.2d 790 (Vt. 1967); In re Normand W. Saucier, 122 Vt. 208, 167 A.2d 368 (Vt. 1960)
- Vt. Stat. tit. 28, § 810
- Vt. R. Evid. 609
- Vt. Stat. tit. 28, § 807
- 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(20) & (33)