People who lost their gun rights due to a criminal conviction in Colorado may be able to get their gun rights restored through a Colorado Governor's Pardon. Under the Colorado Constitution, Article IV, § 7, A pardon is an official forgiveness of the past crime, and it can restore many of the rights -- including gun rights -- that the person had been stripped of.
To qualify for a Colorado governor's pardon, the person has to show:
- Good character before the conviction,
- Good conduct during incarceration,
- The statements of the sentencing judge, district attorney, and prosecuting attorney, and
- Any materials relevant to the person's rehabilitation
Pardons are typically restricted to people who have finished their sentences at least 10 years earlier.
Note that the Colorado governor grants very few pardons, but it varies from governor to governor. Prior to September 2018, Governor John Hickenlooper pardoned 66 people during his 8 years in office. In contrast, Governor Bill Owens pardoned only 13 people in his 8 years. and Governor Bill Ritter pardoned 42. (Jordan Steffen, "Reformed inmate frustrated by backlog in Colorado's pardon process", Denver Post (April 26, 2016)).
Applying for a Colorado pardon
The applicant needs to complete the Executive Clemency Application, which requires the following information:
- Education level,
- Military service,
- Marriage and parent status,
- Need for restoration of rights, including firearm rights,
- Past crime information, and
- Any other required supporting documentation, including:
- Personal letter to the governor explaining the reasons and circumstances behind the pardon request;
- Federal and state tax returns for the prior five years;
- Verification of employment for the prior five years;
- Pay stubs for the last three months;
- Five letters of reference, all dated and addressed to the governor;
- Reports from community parole officer or probation officer that address the applicant's adjustment to community placement;
- Discharge documents from jail or prison;
- Copy of current driver's license;
- Up-to-date FBI record or arrest record;
- Completed fingerprint card; and
- Any other relevant documents
The application then must be mailed to:
Office of Executive Clemency
Denver, CO 80203
There is no fee to submit this application, but applicants are advised to retain an attorney to compose it. An experienced attorney knows how to increase the chances of success.
The Colorado pardon process
After the applicant sends in the pardon application, the Office of Executive Clemency processes it and verifies the information. At the next Executive Clemency Advisory Board session, the Board reviews the applications and sends recommendations to the governor.
Before an applicant can be pardoned, the following people need to comment on the applicant:
- the district attorney in the jurisdiction that prosecuted the applicant,
- the attorney who prosecuted the applicant, and
- the judge who sentenced the applicant
Ultimately, the governor makes the final decision about whether to grant or deny an application. The applicant then gets notified either way. If the governor denies the pardon, the applicant can reapply later.
Note that pardons are completely separate procedure from commutations and Colorado record seals. A commutation is the reduction of a sentence, whereas pardons occur long after a sentence is served. And record seals make a person's criminal history invisible, whereas pardons do not erase anything -- they merely forgive the offense and can restore civil rights.