"Pardon" is one of those words that can mean nothing or everything. You step on someone's toe and recite "Pardon me," a pleasantry that requires no response. But those convicted of crimes in Texas, especially serious crimes, dream of a pardon as a way to turn the page on the past and get a fresh, new start. Texas pardons are granted by the governor of the state on the recommendation of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. A full pardon not only cleans up a criminal record, it restores civil rights the person lost as a result of the conviction.
How to get a pardon in Texas? It isn't easy. When it comes to Texas pardons, it's the old story of many being called but few being chosen. The procedure is complicated, much is left to the discretion of the Board, and the decision-making process is not open to public scrutiny.
About Texas Pardons
The Texas Constitution gives the state governor the authority to pardon people convicted of crimes in the state. But the power is limited by the fact that the governor cannot act alone. He can grant clemency to a convict only if the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles issues a written recommendation.
That Board is comprised of seven members. They are appointed to six-year terms by the governor and must be confirmed by the Texas Senate. The Board's main job is not determining which prisoners deserve clemency or pardon. Rather, the primary role of the Board members is determining whether offenders sentenced to Texas jails and prisons should be granted discretionary release. This includes determining which prisoners should be released on parole or discretionary mandatory supervision, the conditions of release, and whether revocation of parole and mandatory supervision is appropriate. In addition, the Board is charged with recommending clemency matters to the governor.
Pardon and Clemency
Is there a difference between pardon and clemency? There is a difference. Since any discussion of Texas pardons also references clemency, it is important to understand the two terms and where they overlap. The term "clemency" includes pardons, full pardons and conditional pardons. But it also includes other types of clemency, like commutation of sentences and reprieves. Every pardon is a form of clemency, while not every form of clemency is a pardon.
Types of Texas Pardons
Not all pardons issued in Texas are the same. Three distinct types of pardons are possible, depending on the recommendation of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.
One is a full pardon. It can be granted to a living person or posthumously. A full pardon granted to a living person not only clears the felony, misdemeanor or traffic offense that is pardoned, but also restores to the person most of the rights he lost when he was convicted.
What are these rights? A person convicted of a crime in Texas may be deprived of the right to serve on a jury, serve as the executor of an estate and hold public office. During the time the person is serving time for a felony conviction, he also loses his right to vote, but this is restored automatically when he finishes his sentence. A person winning a full pardon can also get the expunction of all of his arrest records, but it is his responsibility to apply for this with the state courts. He may also be eligible for some jobs that he could not apply for with a criminal record, but different professions have different rules about that. However, a pardoned convict will never be eligible to be a Texas police officer.
A conditional pardon does not restore to the convicted person any of his lost civil rights. In addition, conditions are usually attached to a conditional pardon. If the person fails to fulfill the imposed conditions of release, the governor can revoke the pardon.
On the other hand, a pardon for innocence erases the conviction altogether. It is far and away the best sort of pardon, since you not only have a conviction removed from your record, but you also are declared innocent of the crime of which you were convicted. The only type of offense for which a pardon for innocence can be granted is a felony.
Qualifications for a Texas Pardon
The odds are that most people convicted of criminal offenses in Texas would like a pardon, whether full, conditional or for innocence. When is someone eligible for consideration for a pardon?
Full pardons and conditional pardons can be granted only to a person convicted of a felony, misdemeanor or traffic offense, or someone who has completed deferred adjudication community supervision. However, you can apply for a full pardon only after you have served your sentence and been discharged. Those still in prison usually cannot be considered for a pardon, absent exceptional circumstances like a terminal illness. And it is rare to be given a pardon for a misdemeanor. You'll have to show that extreme, exceptional or unusual circumstances exist.
The Board considers a conditional pardon only after a convict completes his sentence for minimum statutory parole eligibility. A pardon for innocence is granted when the Board is convinced of the innocence of someone convicted of a felony.
How to Get a Pardon in Texas
In order to get a Texas pardon, you must submit an application for one. First, select the type of pardon you believe most appropriate for you: a full pardon, a conditional pardon or a pardon for innocence. There is no fee charged for any of the applications.
You can find applications online on the "FORMS" page of the Texas Board of Pardon and Paroles. For those unable to use a computer or access the website, you can also call the Board to get the forms (512-406-5852) and fax them to the Board at 512-467-0945. You can also write a letter asking for an application. Send it to: Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, General Counsel’s Office, 8610 Shoal Creek Boulevard, Austin, Texas 78757.
Fill out the application forms carefully. You will also need to gather other documents to send along with the application. For example, you might need to obtain and send certified court records relating to the crimes for which you want the pardon, like the complaint against you, the judgment and sentence sheet. You will need an official criminal history statement from the Sheriff, as well. If you have a criminal history in other states, get a nationwide criminal report from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. You'll also want letters of recommendation from people who are not relatives but know you and can support you.
Perhaps the most important part of your application is your personal statement. This is where you should talk about how you have changed since the crime, your remorse and your intention to give back to the community. You can also discuss how the conviction on your record has made your life difficult, giving personal specifics. For example, if you have been denied housing or chances of jobs because of your conviction, discuss how this has hurt your chances to make a better life for your family. A heartfelt statement about your regrets is probably more likely to help with your pardon application than a denial of guilt, unless you are seeking a pardon of innocence. But you should also mention what has gone right, any successes or positive news, from attending college to a new job or marriage. Submit documents to support these things, like a marriage certificate or copies of your college transcript. Talk about any future plans you have developed and how a pardon would help you get to your goals.
All these should be forwarded to the Board at the address provided above. Keep copies for your records. After that, the clemency issue is out of your hands. The Board investigates your case, reviews your application and votes on whether to consider you for clemency. If a majority of the seven members recommends you for clemency, your file is forwarded to the governor, who makes the final decision.
Recent Texas Pardons
So, who gets pardoned in Texas? It's easier to answer the question, "When are pardons issued?" since holiday season pardons are an annual ritual for Texas governors. Although one governor pardoned 35 individuals over the holiday in 2003, usually only a handful of convicts receive pardons. And the offenses they are cleared of are often relatively minor and occurred quite a few years before.
For example, in the 2016 Christmas season, Governor Greg Abbott pardoned five people. They were :
- a woman convicted of theft by check and sentenced to pay a $100 fine and restitution of $60.38 in 1991;
- a man convicted of burglary of a vehicle in 2003 and sentenced to community supervision for a year;
- a man convicted of forgery in 2003 and sentenced to five years of community supervision;
- a man convicted of attempted possession of a prohibited weapon in 2009 and sentenced to three days in jail; and
- a man given six months of community supervision and a $125 fine for a theft in 1983.
Criminal justice experts criticize these types of holiday pardons. They argue that the governor's constitutional authority to pardon should be used to help reformed felons. Felons face many obstacles when trying to build a new life because of their criminal history.
Risks and Rewards of Applying
It's hard to assess your chances of getting a pardon since so little information is released about the Board's decision making. Hope is a wonderful thing and can take you a long way, but you should realize that your chances of getting a Texas pardon, especially for a serious crime, are not good. That doesn't mean you shouldn't apply. But consider long and hard before you plunk down a small fortune to a law firm that advertises as specializing in pardons.
If you get a pardon, good things can happen. A pardon is a powerful official statement of your rehabilitation from the state governor. This is a strong factor in your favor, but it doesn't mandate landlords and employers to take you on. Provide them copies of your pardon to strengthen your case.
With a pardon, you can also ask a court to expunge your records relating to the offense. If you get your conviction expunged, the law lets you say that you were never convicted of that particular crime. And, with a full pardon, you will get some of your rights restored. You can also apply to the Board to have your gun rights restored once you get a full pardon. If you are ever a witness in a court proceeding, the other side's attorney cannot use the conviction that was pardoned to attack your truthfulness.
If you receive a pardon based on innocence, you are declared innocent of the crime, and the conviction is erased. You may be eligible for money from the state of Texas for wrongful imprisonment. Act quickly to make a claim.