The Virginia Constitution, Art. V, Sec. 12, and the Virginia Code § 53.1-229, vest the Governor with the power to commute a death sentence and to grant pardons or reprieves, and this power is absolute. This means that once the court process is over, only the Governor has the power to alter your conviction. Nobody can reverse his decision. However, the Governor is not likely to substitute his judgment for that of the court in most cases. Only in cases of extraordinary circumstances can you expect the Governor to act.
There are three types of pardons.
Simple Pardon: This is an act by the Governor on behalf of the Commonwealth granting forgiveness for your crime. Having a criminal record is a hindrance to pursuing certain career prospects and obtaining certain licenses. A simple pardon adds a notation to your criminal record showing that you've been pardoned. However, it does not expunge your record. To be eligible:
You must be free of all conditions set by the court (including any probation period, suspended time, or good time behavior) on all convictions followed by a waiting period of five years.
You first have your civil rights restored if you have a felony on your record.
Conditional Pardon: This type of pardon is only available to people presently incarcerated. The purpose is to obtain a sentence commutation or reduction (i.e., an early release). You will still be under some form of supervision with conditions and may be brought back to prison if you fail to abide by the conditions. Extraordinary circumstances must be shown in order to be considered for a conditional pardon. Incarcerated persons with terminally ill conditions, with a life expectancy of three months or less, may apply for a Medical Pardon, which are handled under an expedited process.
Absolute Pardon: This pardon is a last resort for the wrongfully convicted based on credible evidence of innocence, whether you are in prison or free. It is an exoneration from the criminal conviction. This is the only form of pardon that allows you to petition a circuit court to expunge your criminal record. Absolute pardons are rarely granted because of the high burden of having to prove actual innocence and the deference given to courts in upholding the conviction.
Can I apply for a pardon if there is another avenue for relief? No. If you are eligible for parole release or have an avenue in court to argue your innocence and obtain relief, those avenues would have to be exhausted first.
Does the Governor really consider all pardons? The pardon process is a black box—the public does not know much about the process. Recent years have shown that more people are being granted pardons by the Governor as national attention is brought to unjust convictions, sentences, and barriers to criminal records and the public demands a change, but we still don't have much information about how the process works.
How do I apply for a pardon? To be considered for any of these types of pardons, a Virginia Pardon Petition Questionnaire must be properly filled out in writing with the required information and necessary documents attached. The petition must be submitted to: Pardons staff, Office of Secretary of the Commonwealth, P.O. Box 2454, Richmond, VA 23218-2454.
The granting of pardons by the Governor is a rare act. But for many, it is the only opportunity at a second chance and being free from a criminal record. Whether you've been convicted of one felony or multiple felonies, you need an attorney who is trained pardon defense. Such an attorney can make sure you get the best outcome in your case. Bryan J. Jones is committed to his clients and will develop a defense strategy tailored just for you. Contact Bryan J. Jones, LLC today.