Washington Pardon Information

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The Constitution of Washington gives the Governor the power to pardon.[1] The Legislature can regulate and place restrictions on the Governor’s pardoning power.[1] The Governor, in turn, can place any conditions, limitations, or restrictions on a pardon as he deems proper.[2]

There is a body within the Governor’s office called the Clemency and Pardons Board which may—upon the Governor’s request—receive, investigate, and made recommendations to the Governor on pardon applications.[3] The Board is made up of five members who are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate.[4] The Board cannot recommend a pardon to the Governor until it has held a public hearing on the application.[5]

Because the focus of this site is on pardons, we do not discuss reprieves, commutations, remission of fines and forfeitures, parole, or other types of clemency that may be available in Washington here. We also do 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.

RecordGone See http://www.recordgone.com/Washington/ for more information and options for record sealing and expungement


There does not appear to be any waiting periods or other eligibility requirements you must satisfy before you are eligible to apply for a pardon.[6] It appears you can apply for a pardon any time after you have been convicted. In fact, you are eligible to apply for a Governor’s pardon even if you are still serving your sentence as a death row inmate.[7]

However, the Governor can only grant a pardon for a Washington state conviction.[6] 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 Washington. The Governor’s office receives between 25 to 40 pardon applications every year, but only 3 to 6 of those applications are granted.[6] About 25-35 pardon applications are received per quarter. 27 pardons were granted in 2012 and the first two weeks of 2013. 33 applications were denied.[8] 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

Complete the Petition for Reprieve, Commutation or Pardon form in its entirety, giving detailed information, and when necessary, attaching additional sheets of paper sufficient to provide a response. The Washington State Clemency and Pardon Board also provides detailed filing instructions.

The application form should be rather simple and self-explanatory, as it was created for the non-lawyer to use. You will need to obtain a copy of the Judgment and Sentence for each conviction which you would like a pardon for. You can obtain these documents from the clerk’s office of the court where you were convicted. If you do not have sufficient information on a particular offense, 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 may need to obtain your Washington criminal history report. You can find out how to do this by calling the Washington State Patrol at (360) 705-5100. You can also log onto its website at http://www.wsp.wa.gov/. The report should list all arrests, charges, and convictions you have ever received in Washington.

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

You will also be asked to list on the application the reasons for why the Governor should grant you a pardon. This may be the most important part of your application. 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 state that you want a clean criminal record again. 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 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 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 you.

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.

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.

You will be required to sign a waiver/release form which would allow the Governor’s office to obtain your employment, medical, psychological, military, criminal, and financial records from other organizations or entities that may have them.

Make sure you keep a copy of everything you send for your records. Your completed application, together with all supporting documents and letters of recommendation, should be sent to the above address. (Note: you may need to submit multiple copies of the application form in addition to the original. Call the Governor’s ahead of time to confirm how many copies you must send. Make sure you keep a copy of everything you send for your records.)

Once the Governor’s office receives your application, a small committee of the Board will review your application and determine whether to hold a public hearing before the full Board.[9]

If a hearing is held on your application, the Board will notify the prosecuting attorney in the county where you were convicted at least thirty days before the hearing.[7] The prosecuting attorney is then required to notify the victim, their family members, the witnesses, and the law enforcement agency who was involved in the case of the date and location of the hearing.[7] These individuals will be given an opportunity to submit their written or oral opinions on your application.[7]

You should not only attend the hearing, but should look and act your best. Dress in the same way you would if you were going to court for a trial. If possible, have friends, family members, your pastor, neighbors, your employer, co-workers, and others in your community attend the hearing with you to show their support. The hearing is a good opportunity to put a human face onto your application; it not only lets the Board see you in person, but also lets the Board see the support you have in your community. You should be upfront and cooperative with the Board, the Governor’s office, and their agents at all times.

After the hearing, the Board will decide whether to recommend you to the Governor for a pardon. The Governor has the final say on whether or not you receive a pardon.

The Effects

Once you receive a pardon from the Governor, you are then eligible to have it removed from your criminal history record.[10] However, the pardon does not automatically expunge your conviction from your record. The pardon itself merely forgives you of the offense.[11] You must apply to the court where you were sentenced to have it expunged.[12] Talk to an attorney to find out how this is done.

Once your conviction has been expunged from your criminal history record, the conviction cannot be used against you in any future criminal proceeding and you can deny on any application that you were ever convicted of the offense.[12] It may be possible to expunge your conviction (felony or misdemeanor) even if you do not receive a pardon.[13] Again, you should talk to an attorney knowledgeable about record expungements to find out if you are eligible and what the process is.

RecordGone See http://www.recordgone.com/Washington/ for more information and options for record sealing and expungement

If you were granted a pardon while you were still imprisoned, the pardon would have the effect of releasing you from prison early; in this sense, it is similar to parole. However, a pardon granted in this manner typically has conditions attached to it, which if you violate could cause your pardon to be revoked and you to be thrown back in prison.[14]

At the time the Governor grants you a pardon, he or she can also restore any rights which you may have lost because of the conviction (such as your rights to vote, to sit on a jury, and to hold public office.).[15] However, these rights are usually automatically restored once you have completed your sentence and have been issued a certificate of discharge from the court that sentenced you.[16] Thus, if you are only interested in regaining these basic rights, a pardon might not be necessary.

Not all types of pardons will restore your gun rights, however. Only a pardon based on either innocence or rehabilitation will restore your gun rights.[17] You should ask the Governor’s office for clarification at the time you receive the pardon whether your gun rights are restored. If your gun rights are not restored, you will need to apply to a court to have them restored.[17] However, for certain crimes (for example, rape) your gun rights can only be restored through a pardon.[18]

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.[19] 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.

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.

A conviction that has been pardoned based on your rehabilitation 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 receive the pardon.[20] A conviction that has been pardoned based on innocence (that is, the Governor found you did not commit that crime) cannot be used to impeach you in a future court proceeding under any circumstance.[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 Washington 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 Washington. 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. 1.0 1.1 Wash. Const. art. III, § 9
  2. Wash. Rev. Code § 10.01.120; In re Bush, 193 P.3d 103 (Wa. 2008)
  3. Wash. Rev. Code §§ 9.94A.880 and 9.94A.885
  4. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.94A.880
  5. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.94A.885(3)
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 See The Sentencing Project, Washington, Margaret Colgate Love, http://www.sentencingproject.org/tmp/File/Collateral%20Consequences/Washington.pdf
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Wash. Rev. Code § 10.01.120
  8. Susan M. Beatty, Legal Affairs Coordinator
  9. Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, Washington, http://www.cjpf.org/clemency/Washington.html
  10. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.94A.030
  11. See State v. Aguirre, 73 Wn.App. 682, 871 P.2d 616 (Wash. 1994)(citing State v. Cullen, 14 Wn.2d 105, 127 P.2d 257 (Wash. 1942)); see also State v. Hazzard, 139 Wash. 487, 247 Pac. 957 (Wash 1926)(“The very essence of a pardon is forgiveness or remission of penalty. . . . The very act of forgiveness implies the commission of wrong, and that wrong has been established by the most complete method known to modern civilization. Pardon may relieve from the disability of fines and forfeitures attendant upon a conviction, but they cannot erase the stain of bad character, which has been definitely fixed.”)(citations omitted)
  12. 12.0 12.1 Wash. Rev. Code § 9.94A.640
  13. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.94A.640 see also Wash. Rev. Code § 9.96.060 (expunging misdemeanor convictions)
  14. See, e.g., In re Bush, 193 P.3d 103 (Wa. 2008)
  15. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.96.10 and § 9.96.050
  16. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.94A.637
  17. 17.0 17.1 Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.040
  18. Wash. Rev. Code § 9.41.040 § 91.41.040(4); see also Smith v. State, 118 Wn. App. 464, 76 P.3d 769 (Wash. Ct. App. 2003)
  19. 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(20) & (33)
  20. 20.0 20.1 Wash. R. Evid. 609