How to Get a Pardon In Oklahoma
In Oklahoma, many people confuse a pardon with an expungement, but the two processes are distinctly different. Here’s what you need to know if you want to clear your record and restore your rights.
What is a pardon?
A pardon can only be given by the governor of the state in which the crime was charged, and restores all rights you had before you were convicted of the crime. This is not to be confused with an expungement, which we discuss below.
The Pardon Process
The first step in the process is to apply for a pardon with the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board. There is no fee to apply. Your application must be submitted to the general counsel for the Pardon and Parole Board and include these mandatory items:
- Certified judgment and sentence from the county where you were convicted;
- Certified statement from the court clerk of the county where you were convicted, stating that all fines, fees, restitution, court costs, etc. have been paid in full;
- Current credit report ( generated in the past 120 days);
- Verification of residence (this can be a rental receipt, mortgage statement, deed, or lease agreement, but cannot be utility bills); and
- Verification of employment (such as a current pay stub, benefits statement, or tax return)
All of these items are required in order to review your application. If you submit all these documents correctly, the board will not contact you to confirm they have received everything they need. However, if portions of your application are missing, they will notify you by mail which pieces need to be submitted.
In addition to your application, you may include letters of support or character affidavits. These letters must be attached to your application, and must include the name, address, and home and work telephone numbers for everyone writing a letter of support. Additionally, each letter needs to be dated and notarized.
After receiving your application, the Pardon and Parole Board orders reports from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI). OSBI can take anywhere from two weeks and two months to send these reports to the board.
Once all information has been obtained from OSBI, the Department of Corrections assigns your pardon application to the District Office of Probation and Parole. If you live out of state, the application will be assigned to the general counsel or a pre-pardon investigation. The investigating authority is allowed 70 days to perform this investigation. This investigation is specific to your application, and the investigating body will verify all information in your application (such as your current home address and work status).
Once all necessary pre-pardon investigations are conducted, your pardon application is set on a docket to be heard by the Pardon and Parole Board. This can take a while because the Pardon and Parole Board only meets one day per month.
At the hearing, the board will listen to your request for the pardon, and you may be there in person and speak on your behalf. While this is not required, we always recommend appearing before the board to show your commitment to getting your life back on track. This will also allow the board to put a name to a face, and will humanize you.
You may also bring a representative, such as a lawyer. Only one person, either you or your representative, will be allowed to speak to the board. Hiring a lawyer to speak on your behalf is always a good idea. They will know which points to make in order to maximize your chances of receiving a pardon. Whoever is speaking will be given two minutes to present their argument on why a pardon is appropriate for you.
Once you are done presenting your argument, the board members may have questions for you. There is no time limit for this question-and-answer period.
The board will not vote immediately, and you will not be present for the vote. However, you may contact the Pardon and Parole office at 9 a.m. the Monday after your case was heard to receive the results of the vote.
The Board may recommend against granting your pardon. But, if they vote in your favor, this does not mean you have received a pardon. This is only the first step in your pardon process.
If you are recommended for a pardon by the Pardon and Parole Board, your file will then be sent to the governor for consideration. This file will include your entire application, as well as a pardon certificate. The governor has 90 days to make a decision regarding your pardon application. Regardless of how the board voted, the governor can choose to grant or deny your pardon application. Additionally, the governor may choose to follow the board’s recommendation to some degree, and may choose to deviate from it in others. This was seen recently with the Julius Jones case.
If the governor chooses to grant your pardon, they will sign the pardon certificate and file it with the Oklahoma Secretary of State. The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board will be notified that the governor chose to grant your pardon, and will send you a letter notifying you of the governor’s decision.
If the governor chooses to deny your application, the process is similar. They will file a certificate denying your pardon with the Secretary of State and will likewise communicate this denial to the Pardon and Parole Board. The general counsel for the Pardon and Parole Board will send you a letter denying your pardon, along with a copy of the certificate denying your pardon.
If my pardon was denied, can I apply again?
Yes! You can re-apply one year after the denial. However, it is important to note that you will need to go through the application process again, and you are not automatically re-considered. You will need to resubmit your application with updated information, such as your most recent address, credit report, and character affidavits. Even if you use the same people as character witnesses, you still must get updated affidavits with the current date and have them notarized. In essence, apply as if it is your first request for pardon and make sure you have the most recent information for every single aspect of your application.
Why would I want a pardon?
A pardon can open up a lot of opportunities. This isn’t to be confused with an expungement, which we go into detail about in our expungement guide. A pardon will not get rid of your criminal record. With a pardon, your criminal record remains and searches for your name on the Oklahoma State Courts Network (OSCN) will show your criminal charges. However, it does restore all of the rights you had before your conviction.
Once you have been convicted of a felony, you lose your right to vote and your right to own a gun. However, a gubernatorial pardon will restore both of these rights. In fact, a gubernatorial pardon is the only way to restore your rights.
What is the difference between a pardon and an expungement?
An expungement will clear your criminal record. With an expungement, you can legally respond that you have never been convicted of a crime—it’s as if the case never happened. However, an expungement will not restore the rights you had before you were convicted of the crime. A pardon is the only way to do that. Conversely, a pardon will not remove evidence that you were charged with a crime. The best thing you can do is receive both a pardon AND an expungement. This will both restore your rights and clear your criminal record.
Oklahoma’s History of Pardons
Oklahoma’s current governor, Governor Kevin Stitt, has seemed open to granting pardons and other post-conviction relief. He signed the largest single-day commutation in United States history, leading to the commutation of 527 inmates. While this wasn’t specifically a pardon, it does show his willingness to embrace criminal justice reform and provide formerly convicted individuals a chance at a better life with a clean record.
Below is one example of the docket results from January 2021, with names and Department of Corrections (DOC) numbers redacted. This provides an idea of what crimes are—and are not—being recommended for a pardon. It also helps show how long most people wait after finishing their sentence before applying for a pardon. The results of all Pardon and Parole Board meetings are public information, and you can see the full document on the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole website.
As you can see from this chart, some individuals discharged their sentence years ago. Others, such as the Redacted 3 individual, were released from Department of Corrections custody less than a year before they applied for a pardon, and the board recommended that the governor pardon this individual. While we do not know if the governor chose to accept that recommendation, it shows that the Pardon and Parole Board listens to each case and gives it proper consideration. Remember that there isn’t a specific checklist of things you must accomplish before being eligible for a pardon.
The Bottom Line
The pardon process is very complicated, and a small mistake could prevent you from having your application heard or could lead to an outright denial. While this doesn’t prevent you from being eligible in the future, it does slow down your path to a pardon. We highly recommend finding an attorney to help guide you through this process, and we would be happy to provide a free consultation to determine if a pardon is the right thing for you.