Illinois Legal Aid Online – Clemency Video
Hello, my name is Beth Johnson and I am a staff attorney at Cabrini Green Legal Aid Clinic in
the Criminal Records Program. This video will help you understand the process of petitioning
for executive clemency, the process one must undertake to receive a Governor’s pardon.
Whenever a person has been convicted of any criminal offense, they are unable to expunge any
of their criminal record. Sealing may be a possibility for minor, non-violent misdemeanor
convictions and very few felony convictions. To find out if you are eligible for a sealing of your
criminal conviction, please consult Illinois Legal Aid Online for information regarding the
sealing process. For a person that cannot seal their criminal conviction, the only way that
record can be cleared is by receiving a Governor’s pardon.
The Clemency Process - Overview
To request a Governor’s pardon, you must file a written Petition for Executive Clemency with
the Prisoner Review Board. Now, just because a person may not have gone to prison does mean
they do not need a Governor’s pardon. This is just one job of the Prisoner Review Board. The
Prisoner Review Board is a quasi-judicial agency made up of fifteen individuals appointed by
the Governor. The Board is “quasi-judicial,” as the members are not judges and the forum is
not a court of law. The Board holds hearings for those that request a public hearing along with
their petition for executive clemency. After the hearing, the Board forwards a confidential
recommendation to the Governor, typically within 60 days. It is then up to the Governor to
decide whether to grant a pardon. The Governor has no time limits in which to decide a
petition and the Governor has absolute discretion in making that decision. A pardon is an
extraordinary remedy. If a pardon is granted, with authority to expunge, a person may then
expunge their record in court. There are no time limits one must wait until they are eligible to
petition for executive clemency. However, it is suggested a person wait at least five years with
no criminal history to truly demonstrate that you are law-abiding citizen and deserving of a
Writing the Petition
The first step is writing the petition for executive clemency. You must follow the guidelines set
up by the Board and a template can be found on Illinois Legal Aid Online and the Prisoner
Review Board’s website. The petition does not have to look any certain way, but it must
include certain information. There are six sections to the petition. The entire petition must be
typed. For more information on how to write the petition, refer to the video “Writing a Petition
for Executive Clemency.”
Finishing and Filing the Petition
After everything is typed, print out a copy of the petition. Include all exhibits that you want to
go with the petition. The only required attachment is a copy of your rap sheet and a copy of
your DD214 if you served in the military. You want to include more than the requirements
though. You should include any certificates, diplomas, treatment papers, court records or
letters of recommendation. It is a good idea to have people write letters of recommendation to
go with the petition. These letters can be from family, friends, pastors, teachers, sponsors,
neighbors – anyone who can attest to your character and you as a person. You can label your
exhibits and reference them in your petition. For example, if you write in your personal life
history that you received your GED in 2003, you can say, “see exhibit #.”
Take the typed petition to a notary and sign the last page before a notary public. You can have
the petition notarized at a currency exchange or bank, usually for a one to two dollar fee. With
that signed petition and all exhibits, make the required number of copies. You will need three
copies to the Board along with the original. The original is the copy with your original
signature and the notary public’s original signature. One copy must be sent to the state’s
attorney’s office in the county of conviction, and one to the sentencing judge. If you have more
than one conviction, you must send a copy to each sentencing judge and state’s attorney.
However, if you have two convictions in Cook County, you send one copy to each judge, but
just one to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. Also, you should keep a copy for your
own records. You can contact the Clerk’s Office in the county of conviction to see if your
sentencing judge is still on the bench. If your sentencing judge is retired or deceased, you send
a copy to the chief judge of the county in place of your original sentencing judge. In Chicago,
the chief judge is the Honorable Paul Biebel.
You have a complete packet and multiple copies. You must mail one copy to the State’s
Attorney and one copy to the sentencing judge. Send these copies by certified mail. Mail the
Prisoner Review Board the original, notarized copy, plus three additional copies. Along with
the four copies mailed to the Prisoner Review Board, include the certified mail receipts from the
State’s Attorney and judge’s mailing. This proves you mailed a copy to both. This can also be
proved by affidavit.
The Prisoner Review Board holds public hearings four times per year – twice in Chicago and
twice in Springfield. The Chicago hearings are held in April and October, and the Springfield
hearings are in January and July. The petitions must be received by a certain date, typically 75
days prior to the hearing. You should call the Prisoner Review Board for exact filing deadlines.
The deadlines they provide is the date the petition must be received by the Prisoner Review
Board, not the date the mailing is postmarked. After mailing the petition, you will receive
confirmation from the Board that your petition was received and complete. The letter will also
provide a docket number and hearing date time. Again, you do not need to have a public
hearing, but it is always a good idea.
You can bring as many supporters to your hearing date as you wish, but only four people are
allowed to present to the Board, which includes you. Hearings are limited to 20 minutes. All
hearings are scheduled to start at 9 in the morning, but multiple people are set for the same
time. You may be the first or the twelfth person scheduled to present. Arrive at least 30
minutes early and check in to the room you are assigned. You should wear the same clothes
you would to a job interview. You and your supporters will be called before the board
depending on what order you are on the schedule.
You will present to three to five board members. You will be sworn in under oath. The Board
does not want you to just read your petition. You should summarize and highlight your life
accomplishments. You should also discuss the need for a pardon. Your supporters can testify
to how they know you and testify to the changes or accomplishments they know about. The
Board can ask you or any of the witnesses questions. The key is to be honest!
After your presentation, the State’s Attorney’s Office is allowed to present any objection. You
are then allowed to provide a short rebuttal to the objection raised by the State’s Attorney. The
rebuttal should again focus on all the good and why you are a worthy individual to receive a
pardon. When finished, always thank the Board members for their time.
State’s Attorney’s Objections
The State’s Attorney’s Office can object to your petition for executive clemency. Although there
are some petitions that are not objected to, the vast majority of petitions are. Objections can be
based on any number of factors, but I will discuss a few of the more common objections.
Although you mail the petition to the State’s Attorney’s Office at least 75 days prior to the
hearing, you do not receive their objection to the day of the hearing. When you arrive early to
the hearing and check in to the room, you should also locate the State’s Attorney and ask for a
copy of the objection they filed, if any.
The State’s Attorney’s can object based on any reason they deem fit. Common objections
include the length of time it has been since your last arrest or conviction. Typically, if it’s been
less than five years from your last encounter with the criminal justice system, the office will file
an objection. If the conviction for which you are seeking a pardon is a violent crime, typically
an objection will be filed. If you dispute your underlying conviction, but the State’s Attorney’s
Office has different facts than what you discussed, they will raise that discrepancy. If you fail to
disclose an arrest, they will object saying you were not forthcoming and honest. This reinforces
the need to have a complete and accurate accounting of your criminal record. You must take
the required steps to gather all information regarding your criminal history.
After the Hearing…..What Next?
After the hearing, the Board will make a confidential recommendation to the Governor on
whether you are a good candidate for a pardon. This recommendation is usually made within
60 days of the hearing. It is then forwarded to the Governor for the decision. And that’s when
the wait begins.
The Governor has absolutely no time limits in place, at this time, that require the petition to be
decided upon within a certain amount of time. In reality, the Governor does not even have to
decide, and the petition can be forwarded to the next governor. It is not uncommon to wait
more than two years to receive a decision. In fact, some petitioners, including clients of Cabrini
Green Legal Aid Clinic, have been waiting over four years to hear a simple yes or no.
This is not said to discourage you from filing a clemency petition. It is said to prepare you for
the reality of the clemency process in Illinois at this time. But it also said to motivate you. As a
society, we can change laws. Support laws that would expand relief for criminal records, offer
more second chances to those with past mistakes. Investigate alternative ways to remove
barriers from employment available in the present, such as health care waivers, certificates of
relief from disabilities or certificates of good conduct. Support laws that make those waivers
and certificates stronger in the job market.
There are some legal aid organizations that assist with petitions for executive clemency.
However, you do not need a lawyer to go through the clemency process. Many people file pro
se and represent themselves. But it may be useful to consult an attorney to ensure that you have
a complete and accurate accounting of your criminal record.