10 ways criminal record seals differ from governor's pardons in Nevada

Posted by Neil Shouse | Jun 25, 2018 | 0 Comments

Criminal record seals and governor's pardons are largely different in Nevada. A record seal makes the person's criminal past invisible from their background checks. Meanwhile, a pardon is a government issued "forgiveness" of a person's past crime(s).

In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys discuss how record seals compare to pardons in Nevada.

Scale that shows the words convicted and pardoned.
Getting a criminal record sealed is an entirely different process than getting a pardon in Nevada.

1. The effect on background checks by record seals vs. pardons

Once a person's Nevada criminal record is sealed, it no longer comes up in his/her background checks. And the person can legally deny ever having been arrested or convicted if asked, even under oath.

In contrast, Nevada pardons have no effect on the person's criminal records, and past cases will still come up on background checks. Still, having a pardon can better the person's prospects for employment, housing, and other opportunities.[1]

2. Restoration of civil rights for record seals vs. pardons

Both Nevada record seals and pardons restore a convicted felon's rights to vote, serve on a jury, and hold office. But note that convicted felons can automatically regain these rights without a record seal or pardon if they wait long enough...

The rights to vote and serve on a criminal jury is restored after the person completes his/her sentence (As of July 1, 2019, non-violent felons can vote upon their release from prison, and violent felons can vote after two years.). The right to hold public office is restored four (4) years after the case ends. And the right to serve on a criminal jury is restored six (6) years after the sentence ends.

Note that a pardon does not restore civil rights if the applicant has been convicted in Nevada of:

  • a category A felony; and/or
  • a category B felony involving force or violence that caused substantial bodily harm; and/or
  • at least two felonies unless they arose out of the same act

3. Restoration of gun rights for record seals vs. pardons

Record seals can never restore gun rights in Nevada. Pardons are the only way to restore a person's rights to own and possess a gun, and not all pardons do restore gun rights.[3]

4. Eligibility for record seals vs. pardons

There are statutorily-designated waiting periods before people may receive a record seal or pardon for their past convictions in Nevada. The more severe the offense, the longer the waiting period:

Nevada conviction

Waiting period to get a record seal or pardon (after the case ends)

Most misdemeanors

Seal: 1 year (DUIs have a 7-year waiting period)

Pardon: Most misdemeanors are not eligible for pardons

Gross misdemeanors

Seal: 2 years

Pardon: Most gross misdemeanors are not eligible for pardons

Misdemeanor battery domestic violence

Seal: 7 years

Pardon: 5 years

Category E felonies

Seal: 2 years

Pardon: 6 years

Category D and C felonies

Seal: 5 years

Pardon: 8 or 9 years

Category B felonies

Seal: 5 years

Pardon: 8 or 10 years

Category A felonies

Seal: 10 years

Pardon: 12 years

Record seal wait times are set in stone; in contrast, it may be possible to get a pardon early if the application includes compelling reasons why the Pardons Board should overlook the waiting time requirement.[4]

5. Crimes that may be sealed vs. pardoned

Any Nevada offense can be sealed except for:

  • Felony DUIs,
  • Sex crimes, and
  • Certain crimes against children

Meanwhile, the Nevada Pardons Board typically pardons only felonies and battery domestic violence.

So in sum, any misdemeanor can be sealed. But misdemeanors are rarely pardoned except for battery domestic violence.[5]

6. Procedures for getting a record seal vs. a pardon

Applying for a record seal in Nevada requires five main steps:

  1. Getting a copy of the applicant's criminal history report (SCOPE) and final dispositions, if necessary,
  2. Composing a petition to seal, affidavit, and an order to seal,
  3. Submitting the documents to the prosecutor for approval,
  4. Submitting the order to seal to the judge, and
  5. Mailing the signed order to seal to all the agencies that have copies of the criminal record

It is very rare for courts to hold a hearing about whether to grant a record seal.

Meanwhile, applying for a pardon requires two main steps:

  1. Composing and submitting an application, and
  2. Possibly appearing in front of the Nevada Pardons Board (the applicant does not have to attend if his/her attorney appears)

Unlike pardons, sealing records very rarely requires a hearing.[6]

7. Odds of success for a record seal vs. a pardon

Record seals are much easier to get than pardons in Nevada. Judges virtually always sign off on a record seal as long as the petitioner meets all the eligibility requirements (see section 4). But the Pardons Board grants very few pardons, even if the applicant seems eligible.

In short, the process of granting a pardon is far more subjective than that of getting a record seal.

8. Length of the process for getting a seal vs. a pardon

From beginning to end, both the record seal and pardon processes can take several weeks to several months.

Note that the Pardons Board meets only a few times a year, whereas judges can review record seal petitions year round.

9. Costs of record seals vs. pardons

The cost of applying for a record seal varies from court to court. In general, the total cost from beginning to end is about $150.

Applying for a pardon is cheaper than for a seal. The only costs are for 1) a notary, and 2) postage to mail the documents to the Pardons Board. Note that there is no postage if the applicant submits the form online.

10. Appealing denials of record seals vs. pardons

If a judge declines to sign an order to seal, the petitioner has to wait two (2) years before submitting another order to seal. If the judge rejects it again, the petitioner may not submit any more orders.

If the Pardons Board declines to grant a pardon, the applicant may not apply again unless:

  • He/she can demonstrate a substantial change of circumstance; and
  • The application had already been approved by the Executive Secretary of the Pardons Board.

Therefore, people have only two opportunities to get a record seal. Meanwhile, there is no set maximum for submitting a pardon application, but the Board will not consider it without meeting the aforementioned conditions.[7]

Legal References

  1. NRS 179; NRS 213.
  2. NRS 179.285; NRS 213.090.
  3. Nevada Board of Pardons Commissioners; NRS 213.
  4. NRS 179.245; Criteria and Application Instructions Community Cases.
  5. Id.
  6. Clark County District Attorney's Record Sealing website; Nevada Pardon's Board.
  7. NRS 179.265.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.


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