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Receiving a Pardon in Indiana
A pardon is a type of a type of post conviction relief that the Governor of Indiana can give an individual serving time in prison, or facing other criminal consequences, that essentially forgives the remainder of the sentence. It is rare to obtain a successful pardon, but it is not impossible. Clemency, or the commutation of a sentence, is a form of relief that may reduce or alter a sentence but does not affect the conviction. Both forms of relief require legwork and extensive understanding of the pardon process and criminal law in general.
The Indiana pardon process is designed to allow applicants, called petitioners, to find the forms and fill them out by themselves; however, applicants often have limited resources or experience to make their petitions stand out.
The team at Keffer Hirschauer LLP knows the process and is here to help those seeking a pardon. Our attorneys have the experience, insight, and knowledge to help you put your best foot forward.
What is an Indiana Pardon?
Generally speaking, a pardon is forgiveness by a government’s executive officer of a criminal charge or conviction, and clemency is the forgiveness or shortening of a criminal sentence. At the state level, the executive officer in Indiana is the governor, and for federal offenses the executive officer is the President.
The law on pardon and clemency includes many terms that are often used interchangeably but that do not always mean the same thing. It is important to know the difference and to know what you are ultimately seeking.
- A pardon under Indiana law is the executive power of a governor to forgive a crime and its consequences, with a similar power residing in the President of the United States to do the same for federal offenses and sentences
- Clemency, also granted by either the governor of a state for a sentence imposed under state law or by the President of the United States for a sentence imposed under federal law, can be used to pardon or commute a sentence
- A reprieve is temporary relief from punishment but not a pardon, reduction in sentence, or commutation, often used in last-minute appeals before a scheduled death penalty
- Commutation of sentence, also called a reduction in sentence, effectively cuts short the term of a sentence but does not wipe out the conviction and is often used with excessive penalty cases
- The process of expungement or sealing (or expunction) of criminal records makes it so that others cannot, with some exceptions, view your criminal records without a court order
- Amnesty forgives potential criminal charges because of changed circumstances (like the end of a war)
- A modification of sentence is of a different character than all of these because it does not forgive an offense or sentence but, instead, is a change to the original sentence
How do Pardons Work in Indiana?
In Indiana, the source of pardon and clemency power is the Constitution of Indiana. Under article 5, section 17, the Indiana governor may grant reprieves, commutations, and pardons, after conviction, for all offenses except treason and cases of impeachment. A pardon or commutation for treason is handled by the Indiana General Assembly.
Although the source of authority for granting pardons is found in the Indiana Constitution, the pardon process is found at Indiana Code § 11-9-2-1 through -3 and administrative regulations 220 Ind. Admin. Code 1.1-4-4(d). With so many different provisions to navigate, assistance from experienced counsel is helpful.
A distinction is made for people sentenced as “New Code” offenders (those serving time for offenses committed after October 1977) versus “old code” offenders (those serving time for offenses committed before October 1977). The Indiana Parole Board has jurisdiction and discretionary parole release authority over old code offenders. The Board also has jurisdiction over New Code offenders, but release on parole is mandatory, not discretionary, for offenders who committed crimes after October of 1977.
Steps to Seeking an Indiana Pardon or Clemency
Before filing a petition for a pardon or clemency, a petitioner must initially satisfy the following criteria:
- For a pardon, at least five years must have passed since the completion of your sentence, with parole and probation considered part of your sentences for purposes of this calculation
- A demonstration of rehabilitation
- Any expunged records need to be unsealed prior to application so that the Board can see your convictions
If you meet these prerequisites, you are ready to download and begin completing the Indiana pardon application packet provided by the Indiana Parole Board. Although you are permitted to handwrite your application in legible handwriting, the Indiana Parole Board prefers that it be typed.
Before you submit your petition, you will need to gather and attach the following information:
- A list of all of your Indiana convictions (except for cases involving minor traffic offenses, not guilty verdicts and judgments, dismissals, or diversion program) because a pardon is designed to cover all of your Indiana convictions
- A pardon checklist (provided in the pardon application packet)
- A resume that lists your complete work history
- A list of all of your community service
- A certified driving record
- Letters of recommendation
The actual petition is called a Petition for Clemency, but the first page asks you to check the appropriate box to indicate what kind of relief you seek: reprieve, pardon, or commutation of sentence.
The Indiana Parole Board’s Responsibilities
The Indiana Parole Board reviews all petitions for reprieve, pardon, or clemency in the form of commutation of sentence. Comprised of five members appointed by the governor, they serve four-year terms as full-time, salaried employees, and they must have at least a bachelor’s degree or 10 years of law enforcement experience. No more than three of them can be from the same political party.
In evaluating a petition for clemency, the Board initially takes the following steps:
- Assigns a parole agent to conduct and send to the Board a multi-faceted community investigation, which may include background checks
- Notify the victim, sentencing court, and prosecuting attorney of the petition for clemency
- Set a hearing date and notify the petitioner of that date
It takes an average of six months from the filing of your completed application date to get to a hearing date. It is here that you may get your chance to try to persuade the Board to recommend a pardon for you.
Clemency hearings are more akin to public forum hearings than to court hearings for several reasons. Most notably, the Indiana Rules of Evidence and other procedural rules do not apply. An Indiana criminal defense attorney experienced in clemency and pardon matters can let you know what to expect.
Following the hearing, the Board reviews your application packet and the hearing evidence. The Board must consider four things in determining the recommendation to make to the governor:
- The nature and circumstances of the crime(s) and your participation in the crime
- Your prior criminal record
- Your conduct and attitude during commitment
- The best interests of society
Ultimately, the Board either denies making a recommendation or makes a non-binding recommendation to the governor that the Indiana pardon be granted. The Board does not have a deadline for making its determination, the governor is under no obligation to accept the Board’s recommendation. In turn, the governor is not obligated to make any decision at all.
While you wait for a decision on your Indiana pardon application, you will want to comfort of knowing that you put your best foot forward and presented yourself in the best possible light. Using our team can give you that confidence while you wait for a decision and hope that it is a good one.
Consequences of Seeking a Pardon or Clemency
If an Indiana pardon is granted, it is done by the “grace of the governor” and will be in the form of an executive order like this one. A pardon only affects your current sentence, and clemency looks back to convictions and sentences already served. Neither automatically results in the expungement of your record although it may be used as the basis for requesting an expungement of your criminal record.
Seeking a pardon or clemency is a complicated process, requiring a lot of legwork in record-gathering and verification. In addition to navigating different laws and regulations, petitioners should know that the process of pardons is very public. An Indiana criminal defense attorney experienced in pardons can explain the ramifications of the pardon process and help you explore this and other post conviction options.
Let the Governor See the Best You
Make no mistake—the grant of a pardon or clemency is incredibly rare, but it is a foregone conclusion that it will not be granted if the initial packet is incomplete or inaccurate. Non-lawyers are seldom equipped to understand the complex legal framework defining the Indiana pardon process or to complete the pardon application in a manner most likely see success. Utilizing the help of an Indiana criminal defense attorney ensures that the information you present is in its best possible form.
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