How to Write a Pardon Letter

By Teo Spengler - Updated June 05, 2017
Hand holding jail cell bars

In order to write a letter seeking pardon, you'll need to figure out the appropriate recipient and follow the format they request. Writing a pardon letter usually involves penning a statement about your activities since your conviction and clarifying that you understand what you did and feel remorseful.

Write to the Right Person

Even the most convincing pardon case will fail if you send the letter to the wrong person. The correct official to address depends on the court that convicted you.

For example, the president of the United States can and does grant pardons. But his power to pardon extends only to federal crimes. If you were convicted of a federal crime in a federal court, you can apply to the president for pardon.

On the other hand, if you broke state laws and were convicted, you need to apply to the governor of the state in which you were convicted. If you aren't sure whether the crime was federal or state, you can tell by the court that convicted you. State crimes are prosecuted in state courts, federal crimes in U.S. district courts.

Follow the Procedures Required

Whether you are asking the U.S. president or the governor of a state for pardon, you will find information about how to proceed on the appropriate internet website or directly from the official's office. It is essential to follow the procedures outlined in order for your pardon application to have a chance.

The official's website also helps you direct your pardon letter focus. It will tell you the kinds of issues you will need to discuss.

Presidential Pardon Procedure

Don't send requests for presidential pardon to the White House. The Department of Justice's online pardon information page tells you to send all of the information to the Office of the Pardon Attorney at the DOJ. A petition form is linked to that page.

To apply for this kind of executive clemency, you normally must wait until five years after release from your current confinement. This allows you to demonstrate that you are able to lead a "responsible, productive and law-abiding life." If you wish a waiver of the wait period, you must present compelling reasons for the waiver in a cover letter to your pardon application.

One of the questions you should address in the petition is the specific reason you are seeking pardon, e.g. what you hope to accomplish. You must discuss how a pardon will help you accomplish that purpose. In addition, discuss your acceptance of responsibility for the crime and your remorse and atonement. You'll need to write about how you have behaved more constructively in the recent past.

State Governor Pardon Procedure

Governors have authority to pardon people convicted of state offenses. But the format and procedures for pardon requests vary among the states.

Find the pardon letter format required by the governor of the state in which you were convicted, regardless of whether you currently reside elsewhere. The same concepts apply to gubernatorial pardon letters as to executive clemency applications: Express understanding of and remorse for what you did and outline exemplary behavior since conviction.

About the Author

Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.

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