Applying for a Pardon in the
-by Avery Day, Partner
State of Maine
Chris could not believe it. Twenty years ago, he joined his friends in a reckless prank as a 19-year-old. He was convicted and did what was required of him. He was always embarrassed by this part of his life, but it was largely behind him. At least that is what he thought. As part of his job in municipal government he is required to be bonded. He has now learned that the town’s insurance carrier will no longer bond him due to the criminal conviction and he stands to lose his job.
If you find that a prior criminal conviction is preventing you from activities like remaining in an existing job, taking a new job, relocating to a different country, applying for public housing, adopting a child, acting as a foster parent, or providing volunteer service at the local level, there may be some relief from your current situation.
Under Maine’s Constitution, the Governor can grant Executive Clemency, which includes a pardon, to those convicted of breaking Maine’s criminal laws. This remedy is available only in extraordinary circumstances and is not applicable to everyone with a prior criminal conviction.
In my prior role as an attorney in state government, I was involved in the pardon process. I observed the Pardon Board as it decided which hearings to grant, attended the hearings themselves, observed Executive Sessions of the Pardon Board, and helped communicate the recommendations of the Pardon Board to the Governor. It was interesting work and I gained some insight into what petitioners do wrong and right during this process.
If you are thinking of applying for a pardon, here are a few things you may want to consider:
1. The Cardinal Rule: Be Honest
This should go without saying, but total honesty is a must and can be quite difficult during the pardon process. The petition must not be misleading in any way and complete honesty at the hearing is essential.
Prior criminal convictions can be embarrassing and bring shame to those who have committed crimes. Many who have served their debt to society would like to put their past behind them and not have to relive the mistakes of their past. When applying for a pardon, however, you will have to do just that. You must be able to discuss your past candidly and publicly with people you have never met. This can be difficult but it must be done.
Members of the Pardon Board likely have a background as either a prosecutor or a defense attorney. After a career in this line of work, they have a strong sense for when someone is telling the truth. Dishonesty gives them a reason to not recommend a pardon.
2. Know the Process
There are a number of steps involved in applying for a pardon. Understanding the process will help you navigate it more successfully.
Step 1: Preparing Your Petition – All pardon requests start with a petition to the Pardon Board (a three-member board appointed by the Governor). The petition itself includes helpful instructions and insights into which requests are likely to succeed. Additionally, Department of Corrections staff are very helpful in answering petition-related questions.
Step 2: Your Petition is Screened – Completed petitions are provided to the Pardon Board for their review. This Board then decides which petitioners will be granted a hearing. A large number of petitions are reviewed and the petitioner is never granted a hearing. In fact, I believe that this is the biggest hurdle to overcome in this process. Petitions must demonstrate that a prior criminal conviction is holding someone back in an extraordinary way. Great care should be taken in framing a petition in a way that will clear this hurdle.
Step 3: Background Investigation – Those who are granted hearings will be investigated to provide the members of the Pardon Board with background information on which to make their recommendation. This will involve an interview with the petitioner that touches on family, medical, employment and criminal histories. Those who apply for a pardon should be prepared to address these very personal questions candidly.
Step 4: The Hearing – Only a select few petitioners are granted a hearing. Hearings are held three or four times each year. These hearings are open to the public and anyone may address the Pardon Board in support or opposition to the request for a pardon. A pardon hearing can be a stressful event. Some petitioners feel the need to put on a slick presentation or otherwise make their case in a way that is not natural to them. Above all else, be yourself. The Pardon Board is not looking for a show, they want to hear from you in a sincere and honest fashion.
Step 5: Executive Session – After hearings have concluded, the three-member Pardon Board discusses each petition and makes its recommendations to the Governor regarding whether or not a pardon should be granted.
Step 6: Governor’s Decision – The recommendations of the Pardon Board are provided to the Governor, who will make the ultimate decision as to whether or not to grant a pardon.
Step 7: Completion of Pardon Documents – Should the Governor decide to grant a pardon; a pardon warrant must be drawn up to document the Governor’s decision.
3. Be Patient
Please keep in mind that this is a lengthy endeavor. The Pardon Board meets only on a few occasions each year, the Governor may take some time to make his decision, and documenting the Governor’s decision will take yet more time. This is an extraordinary request, but for those who successfully see the process through to the end, it is well worth the effort and the wait.
If you are thinking about applying for a pardon and have questions, please feel free to contact me at ADay@StevensDayLaw.com or (207) 430-3487.