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What Does it Take to Obtain a Criminal Pardon in Wisconsin?

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In June 2019, newly-elected Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers reversed the eight-year moratorium on criminal pardons imposed by the former Governor Walker, who refused to issue pardons during his two terms in office. Governor Evers issued Executive Order #30, which reversed Walker’s unprecedented shutdown of executive clemency. This Order reopens an avenue of potential relief for those who have lost some of their rights due to a criminal conviction.

Following his consideration of recommendations made by the Governor's Pardon Advisory Board after their October 14, 2019, hearing, Governor Evers issued pardons to eight individuals on November 8, 2019.  “Pardons play a very important role in our criminal justice system and society by giving deserving folks a second chance,” Governor Evers said. “For so many of these individuals, their past record has held them back from achieving personal or career goals, and I look forward to seeing how they use this second chance to give back to their communities and our state.”

While the criteria for pardon eligibility are spelled out (see links in sources section below), the process of obtaining a pardon can be complicated. This makes it advisable for those seeking a pardon to have an experienced criminal defense attorney to guide and assist them in record-gathering, application, development of reasons, references, and at the hearing before the Pardon Advisory Board.

What Is a Pardon?

A pardon is a grant of forgiveness from the Governor for a state criminal conviction that can restore some rights and privileges and relieve certain legal disabilities. A pardon does not mean that a conviction is expunged, erased, vacated, or sealed. Expungement, by contrast, is granted by a court. See Wis. Stat. § 973.015. Wisconsin has a Pardon Advisory Board to review requests and make recommendations to the Governor.

Know Your Rights

An individual convicted of a felony loses a number of rights. In Wisconsin, some rights are returned upon completion of a criminal sentence, including the right to vote and to serve on a jury. This is not the case in all states. However, other rights for convicted felons require a pardon, including firearm rights and the right to hold public office.

Pardon Eligibility

When he reinstated pardons, Governor Evers issued the following criteria:

  • The pardon must be for a felony conviction.
  • The original sentence must have been completed in its entirety at least five years before the pardon application is made. This includes all confinement as well as supervised release, such as probation, parole, or extended supervision.
  • The pardon seeker cannot be facing or have been convicted of any criminal offense in any jurisdiction since completing her/his sentence.
  • The individual is not currently required to register as a sex offender under Wis. Stat. §301.45.

In addition to meeting the above criteria, there is a fairly lengthy application process that must be completed. In addition to answering specific questions, the following information must accompany the application for each crime for which a pardon is sought:

  • A certified copy of the criminal complaint
  • Certified information for each crime
  • The certified judgment of conviction
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Other relevant documents 

Meeting the above criteria and providing necessary information provides eligibility to be considered for a pardon, but by no means guarantees that a pardon will be granted.

Policy and Procedure

After the petition and supporting documents are filed, and an applicant is determined to be eligible—a process that can take months based on the volume of requests—individuals seeking a pardon are scheduled to appear before the Pardon Advisory Board for a pardon hearing. This is a public hearing at which pardon seekers and their legal representatives can appear, and they will be asked questions about the crime or crimes committed, their rehabilitation efforts, and why they believe they deserve a pardon. After the hearing before the Pardon Advisory Board, it makes recommendations to Governor Evers. 

After accepting recommendations from the Pardon Advisory Board, the Governor may grant a pardon. A pardon may be conditional or unconditional. Unless a special waiver is granted, pardons are not granted for misdemeanors.

Contact Our Milwaukee Criminal Pardon Attorneys

If you have been convicted of a crime and completed your sentence, and you believe a pardon is warranted, it is recommended that you not approach the pardon application process on your own. At the very least, you should consult with a law firm experienced in presenting pardon and executive clemency applications, as is Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown, LLP. You want to make sure that your pardon application has the best chance to be seriously considered and hopefully granted. Contact the experienced Milwaukee, WI criminal defense lawyers at Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown, LLP  by calling 414-271-1440 to schedule a consultation. 








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