"Pardon me" is usually a mild expression of regret for a false step, but to those convicted of crimes, a request for a pardon is very serious business. Pardons by a governor can erase the stigma of a conviction, allowing the person to turn the page from their criminal record.
Seeking a pardon is never a slam dunk; many are called, but few are chosen. Some states are reputed to be easier than others when it comes to the pardon process, but the state of Texas is not one of the easier ones.
The application procedure is complex; the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles (the Board) has enormous discretion; and the decision-making process, both by the Board and the governor, is not open to public scrutiny.
History of Pardons
The presidential authority to pardon has its origins in English history, where it was called the “prerogative of mercy,” first appearing during the reign of King Ine of Wessex in the seventh century. A similar power was discussed and approved during the Constitutional Convention and found its way into the final document.
About Presidential and State Pardons
The United States Constitution (Article II, Section 2) states that the president has the authority to “grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” This power is not open to modification by either the legislative or judicial branch.
Similarly, most state constitutions give the governor the right to grant pardons for state offenses. Texas law does grant the governor this authority, but it is not without limitations.
The Texas Constitution gives the state governor the authority to pardon people convicted of crimes in the state, but clemency can be granted only to a convict if the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles issues a written recommendation in favor.
Texas Pardon Process
While the question of a presidential pardon for federal crimes rests absolutely within the authority of the office, this is not a solo decision in Texas. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles must first consider and offer an opinion on a convict's request for clemency.
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles has seven members, all appointed by the governor of the state to terms of six years. Each appointment must be confirmed by the Texas Senate. The Board's primary task is to investigate a prisoner seeking discretionary release to determine whether this should be granted. This investigation includes several issues:
- Whether revocation of parole and mandatory supervision is appropriate.
- Whether a prisoner should be released on parole or on discretionary mandatory supervision.
- Conditions of the release.
Issuance of Executive Clemency
In addition to this function, the Board has the responsibility of considering and issuing recommendations about clemency matters to the Texas governor. Note that "clemency" is not synonymous with "pardon," although the two terms overlap.
Every pardon is a form of clemency, but not every form of clemency is a pardon. That is, the term clemency includes pardons, full pardons and conditional pardons, in addition to other types of clemency, like commutation of sentences and reprieves.
Three Types of Texas Pardons
Not all Texas pardons are created equal. There are three different types of pardons and if the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recommends pardons, they must specify one of the following:
- Full pardon.
- Conditional pardon.
- Pardon for innocence.
Type of Pardon
Description of Pardon
Granted to a living person or posthumously. It clears their criminal record and restores most of the rights lost on conviction. It can be granted for conviction of a felony, misdemeanor or traffic offense.
Generally includes conditions of release that must be fulfilled or the pardon can be revoked. This type of pardon does not restore any of the convicted person's lost civil rights. It can be granted for conviction of a felony, misdemeanor or traffic offense.
Pardon for Innocence
Available only for a felony conviction. It erases the conviction altogether, removes it completely from the criminal record, and provides a public declaration of the person's innocence.
Restoration of Civil Rights
Both the full Texas pardon and the Texas pardon for innocence restore most (full pardon) or all (pardon for innocence) of the person's civil rights that were lost when they were convicted.
To understand the significance of this legal gesture, it is necessary to understand the rights a person is deprived of when convicted of a crime in Texas. These include the right to:
- Serve on a jury.
- Serve as the executor of an estate.
- Hold public office.
- Own firearms for five years.
- Hold specific jobs when released.
Restoration of the Right to Vote
The right to vote is the only one of these civil rights that is automatically restored when a convict completes their sentence. This has not always been the case; it is a relatively recent change in the law.
Right to Possess Firearms
The right to possess firearms applies only for a certain specified period of time. That is, a person convicted of a felony in Texas is prohibited from possessing any firearm for five years after the date of the person’s release from confinement or release from community supervision, parole or mandatory supervision, whichever is later.
Impact of a Full Pardon on Right to Work
Note that a person who wins a pardon for innocence has the right to work at any type of job they choose in the future, but the same does not apply to someone getting a full pardon.
A full pardon grants the right to eligibility for some jobs that the convict could not apply for with a criminal record, but different professions have different rules. For example, a person with a full pardon is never eligible to be a Texas police officer.
Eligibility and Requirements to Apply for a Texas Pardon
It is a safe bet that most convicted criminals in Texas would be delighted to get a pardon. While a pardon for innocence is obviously the best type of pardon, generally a full pardon or even a conditional one would be welcome. But not everyone is eligible, and of those that do apply, few are selected.
What are the eligibility requirements for a Texas pardon? Not every type of pardon can be granted for every type of crime. Full pardons and conditional pardons are granted only to a person convicted of a felony, misdemeanor or traffic offense, or to someone who has completed deferred adjudication community supervision.
Note that it is quite rare for an individual to be given a pardon in Texas for a misdemeanor or a lesser crime. The convict must establish and detail extreme, exceptional or unusual circumstances.
Acceptance of Pardon Requests
Full pardon applications are accepted only after the individual has completed all parts of their criminal sentence and has been discharged from the criminal system. Those still in prison usually cannot be considered for a full pardon without showing exceptional circumstances, such as a terminal illness.
What about conditional pardon applications? The Board of Pardons considers a conditional pardon only after a convict completes their sentence for minimum statutory parole eligibility.
A pardon for innocence does not share any of these requirements – it is granted only for a felony conviction. But it can be awarded at any point in the criminal process after conviction if the Board is convinced of the person's innocence. It is not relevant whether the person is still in prison or not.
Applying for a Texas Pardon
As in most states, the process for getting a Texas pardon starts with a written application. The individual can apply for any type of pardon for which they qualify. Note that there are separate applications for a full pardon, a conditional pardon, and a pardon for innocence. One piece of good news: there is no application fee for any of these.
The easiest way to get an application is to look online on the "FORMS" page of the Texas Board of Pardon and Paroles. The forms can be accessed, filled out and submitted online.
Submitting an Application by Mail
If going online is difficult, applicants can call the Board of Parole at 512-406-5852 to ask that the appropriate forms be sent to them by mail. They can also mail their request for an application to: Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, General Counsel’s Office, 8610 Shoal Creek Boulevard, Austin, TX 78757. Return the completed form to the Board by fax to 512-467-0945.
Filling Out the Pardon Application Form
Filling out the pardon application is not the work of a minute. It should be a considered process and taken seriously – each question should be answered fully and carefully.
Perhaps more difficult is obtaining and attaching the various documents that must be sent with the application. They can include certified court records relating to the crimes at issue such as the complaint, the judgment and the sentence sheet.
Generally an official criminal history statement from the sheriff is also required, as well as a nationwide criminal report from the Federal Bureau of Investigation if the individual has a criminal history in other states. Letters of recommendation are desirable, especially from objective non-relatives.
All-important Personal Statement
A Texas pardon application requires a personal statement from the convict, and the importance of this document cannot be overstated. This is the document in which the applicant describes how they have changed since the commission of the crime.
Unless the application is for a pardon for innocence, the applicant should describe their deep remorse for the harm they did and their intention to give back to the community.
Other topics often raised in personal statements include the individual's childhood situation that may have contributed to their behavior, as well as the ways in which the conviction will make, or has made, life difficult and how it has limited the person's options.
Discussing the Impact of the Conviction
The statement could include how denial of housing or employment due to the conviction has prevented the applicant from building a better life for their family or prevented them from giving back as much as they would like to the community.
Denying guilt is appropriate or useful only to those seeking a pardon of innocence. Positive news can also be shared, like attending college, together with supporting documentation. A discussion of future hopes and plans could follow, together with an explanation of how a pardon would help accomplish these goals.
Submitting the Application to the Board
The personal statement should be included in the documents forwarded to the Board. At that point, the matter is entirely in the Board's hands. It reviews the application and documentation, investigates the matter and votes on whether to consider clemency.
If a majority of the seven members recommends clemency, a file is forwarded to the Texas governor, who makes the final decision.
- Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles: What Is Clemency?
- Jobs for Felons Hub: How to Get a Pardon in Texas
- Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles: Parole in Texas
- Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles: Forms
- CCR Center: Texas Restoration of Rights Project
- Texas Statutes: Texas Penal Code Section 46.01 Weapons Definitions
- If you are trying to apply for a pardon for a federal crime, you will need to apply for a presidential pardon, not a governor's pardon.
- By applying for and accepting a pardon, you are also acknowleding your conviction was correct and accepting guilt. For those who feel the were wrongfully convicted, a pardon may not be the most desirable choice.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. 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 MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.