A Governor’s pardon (clemency) in Colorado is public forgiveness for a crime after the sentence has been served. Article IV, § 7 of the Colorado State Constitution provides that the governor with the “power to grant reprieves, commutations and pardons after conviction, for all offenses except treason, and except in case of impeachment”.
Why apply for a Governor’s pardon in Colorado?
A Governor’s pardon restores many of the rights an individual may have lost as the result of a criminal conviction. 1
Benefits of a Governor’s pardon In Colorado:
- Returning the right to own or possess firearms in Colorado.2
- No longer having to register as a sex offender in Colorado.3
- Better employment opportunities.4
- A defense to immigration deportation.
- Eligibility for professional licensing.
- Better rental and housing opportunities.
- Official and public forgiveness from the State of Colorado.
Who is eligible for a Colorado Governor’s pardon?
Any Colorado criminal conviction is eligible to be the subject of a pardon in Colorado, except in the case of impeachment or treason. To be approved for a Governor’s pardon, the Executive Clemency Advisory Board must recommend a pardon to the governor.
A pardon is only available for individuals who have been convicted of a crime and have served out their sentences. There is generally a 10-year waiting period after completion of the sentence before the individual can apply for a pardon.
To help you better understand how to apply for a Governor’s pardon in Colorado, our Denver Colorado criminal defense lawyers discuss the following:
- 1. What is a Colorado Governor’s pardon?
- 2. Why should I apply for clemency in Colorado?
- 3. Who is eligible for a Governor’s pardon in Colorado?
- 4. How do I apply for a pardon?
- 5. What is the 8-step process for applying for a pardon in Colorado?
- 6. How are pardons different from commutations?
- 7. Will a pardon seal my criminal record in Colorado?
1. What is a Colorado Governor’s pardon?
A Colorado Governor’s pardon is public forgiveness from the governor for someone who has been convicted of a crime and served his or her sentence. Pardoning is an extraordinary measure, generally reserved for those who have demonstrated rehabilitation after a conviction.
Under Section 7 of Article IV of the Colorado Constitution:
“The governor shall have power to grant reprieves, commutations and pardons after conviction, for all offenses except treason, and except in case of impeachment, subject to such regulations as may be prescribed by law relative to the manner of applying for pardons, but he shall in every case where he may exercise this power, send to the general assembly at its first session thereafter, a transcript of the petition, all proceedings, and the reasons for his action.”5
When someone is granted a pardon, it relieves many of the lifelong penalties associated with a criminal conviction in the State of Colorado.
Example: When Chad was 18-years-old, he was caught taking a DVD player from a department store. Chad was charged with criminal theft under 18-4-401 of the Colorado Revised Statutes (C.R.S.), convicted of a Class 6 felony, and sentenced to 1 year in prison.
After completing his sentence, Chad finished school, got a job as an X-ray Technician, and had a family. Chad did not have any trouble with the law since his conviction. Chad wants to have his crime pardoned because he wants to take his children hunting like his father had when he was a boy.
Chad applies for a full Governor’s pardon. The governor grant’s Chad’s application and restores Chad’s right to own guns again.
2. Why should I apply for clemency in Colorado?
A criminal conviction can have a number of collateral consequences that remain long after serving a sentence. The long-term consequences of a conviction are generally worse for a felony crime than a misdemeanor.
A Governor’s pardon can restore many of the rights and privileges taken away by having a criminal conviction. A misdemeanor or felony conviction can result in difficulties or limitations on:
- finding a job,
- gun ownership,
- getting public benefits,
- scholarships, and
- professional licenses.
In Colorado, many state rights are returned to an individual after serving a criminal sentence, including the right to vote or the right to serve on a jury. A pardon is not needed to get these rights back after completing a sentence.
Even if getting a pardon is not about restoring any rights, individuals may want official recognition that they have been rehabilitated and forgiven for their past actions. A Governor’s pardon may be the best way to get public forgiveness for a crime.
2.1. Benefits of a Governor’s pardon in Colorado
Certain rights are taken away after a criminal conviction. Even after serving out the entire criminal sentence, many rights may have been permanently stripped away, depending on the crime. A Governor’s pardon may be the only way to get those rights restored.6
A Colorado Governor’s pardon may be sought after to restore certain rights, including:
- The Second Amendment right to own or possess firearms,
- The right to apply for a trade / occupational / professional license,
- No longer having to register as a sex offender, 7 and
- The right to avoid deportation based on a criminal conviction.
A pardon also lifts various legal disabilities, such as when applying for housing. For instance, a landlord who would normally not lease to people with a criminal history may reconsider when he/she sees the would-be tenant has been forgiven by the state’s highest executive authority.
2.1.1. Can a pardon restore my gun rights?
Yes, a Colorado Governor’s pardon can restore the person’s right to possess firearms under Colorado state law and federal law. But the pardon must explicitly say that the person’s gun rights are restored. People applying for a pardon should state in their application that they are requesting a restoration of their gun rights.
Note that some states are stricter than Colorado law and federal law, and that a Colorado pardon may be insufficient to restore gun rights in those states. People who have been pardoned in Colorado and intend to travel should research other states’ gun laws to learn whether they may lawfully have guns there.
2.2. Limitations of a Governor’s Pardon
There are limitations to a Colorado Governor’s pardon granted to someone convicted of a crime. A pardon is not necessary to restore all rights that are restricted by a criminal conviction. Additionally, a Governor’s pardon does not erase or seal the criminal record.
2.2.1. Rights Automatically Restored After Completing the Criminal Sentence
Some rights are taken away after the defendant is convicted and while he or she is in prison or on parole. However, these rights may be restored without a pardon after the sentence has been completed, including:
- voting rights,8
- the right to hold public office,9 and
- the right to serve on a jury.
2.2.2. Pardon Does Not Seal or Expunge the Criminal Record
A Governor’s pardon does not erase, seal, or expunge the criminal record. After a pardon is granted, the individual will still have a criminal record, which is generally a public record in Colorado.
Employers and housing providers may still be able to see the criminal record. However, if the applicant shows them their pardon – an official statement of public forgiveness – the employers or landlords may choose to overlook the criminal record.
3. Who is eligible for a Governor’s pardon in Colorado?
Almost anyone who was convicted of a crime in Colorado and has served out their criminal sentence is eligible for a Governor’s pardon after a waiting period. A Governor’s pardon can be granted for any Colorado state crime, except for treason and in the case of impeachment.
To qualify for a Governor’s pardon, the individual needs to demonstrate:
- Good character prior to conviction,
- Good conduct during confinement,
- The statements of the sentencing judge and district attorneys, if any, and
- Any other material concerning the reformation of the accused.10
The time period after completing the sentence before one can apply for a pardon is generally 10 years.
The governor of Colorado does not have the ability to pardon federal crimes, military offenses, or convictions in other states. If someone is convicted of a crime in another state, that person would have to go through that other state’s procedure to seek a pardon.
The governor has no obligation to grant a pardon for anyone. A pardon is not a right, and relatively few people who apply for it will be pardoned in Colorado.
4. How do I apply for a pardon?
The pardon procedure is established by the Colorado Legislature. Applying for a Colorado Governor’s pardon begins by completing the “Executive Clemency Application.”11
There is no fee required to apply for a pardon in Colorado.
The application requires information about the applicant, including:
- Education level,
- Military service,
- Domestic status (spouse/children),
- Need for restoration of rights, including firearm rights,
- Crime information, and
- Required supporting documentation.
Executive Clemency Applications and all required documentation must be submitted to the Governor’s office at:
Office of Executive Clemency
Denver, CO 80203
4.1. What documents do I need to submit with the Colorado pardon application?
Along with the application, the applicant needs to submit all necessary documentation and records. This includes:
- Personal letter to the Governor stating the reasons and circumstances for requesting a pardon.
- Federal and state tax return transcripts for the last five (5) years.
- Verification of employment for the past five (5) years.
- Pay stubs for the last three (3) months from the employer.
- Five (5) letters of reference, dated and addressed to the Governor.
- Reports from the community parole officer or probation officer addressing adjustment to community placement.
- Discharge documents.
- Copy of driver’s license.
- Current FBI record or arrest record.
- Completed fingerprint card.
- Any additional documents that would assist the Governor in making an informed decision.12
Note that the Governor receives several pardon applications, so applicants should make sure that their personal statement stands out by being interesting, detailed, and genuine. Applicants should discuss how a pardon would help them move forward career-wise or would allow them to remain in the U.S. (if they are immigrants).
Applicants should include all of their achievements and contributions, such as:
- family life, including marriage and children (including marriage certificates and birth certificates)
- stable employment
- military awards
- transcripts from schools, such as high school and college
- certificates and diplomas from educational institutions
- law-abiding conduct (such as avoiding new arrests)
- community ties
- community service
- monetary donations
- any other positive life events and recognitions that demonstrate rehabilitation and reintegration into society
Applicants can also include recommendation letters from family, friends, employers, clergymen, co-workers, or other community members. The letters should explain why the Governor should grant the pardon, and they should include the writer’s contact information so the Governor’s office can verify their veracity. And if the conviction is precluding the applicant from pursuing a certain career or job status, the applicant should include documentation such as letters from prospective employers.
Note that a pardon is not a retrying of the past offense. The Governor is interested in seeing that the applicant has remorse and has moved forward. It is not the Governor’s job to evaluate whether the defendant was wrongfully convicted.
4.2. Pardon procedures for low-level marijuana crimes
People convicted in county court of possessing one ounce or less of marijuana should have already been automatically pardoned. But to be sure, they should request a confirmation of the pardon by completing this online form on the Colorado Bureau of Investigation website.
People convicted in county court of possessing up to two ounces of marijuana (but more than once ounce) do not need to submit a formal pardon application. Instead, they can complete this online form on the Colorado Bureau of Investigation website.13
For marijuana convictions in municipal court, the defendant should contact the municipality for local pardon options – if any.
5. What is the 8-step process for applying for a pardon in Colorado?
The pardon process has to go through verification, review by the Executive Clemency Advisory Board, and finally, consideration by the Governor. These are the 8 steps in the process, and it usually takes six months:
- After filling out the application and providing all the supporting documents, the application is processed and the information is verified.
- The Director of the Executive Clemency Advisory Board convenes a session.
- The Board (which consists of seven members appointed by the Governor) reviews the clemency applications.
- The Board makes recommendations for pardons and forwards the recommendations to the Governor.
- The Governor takes the application under advisement.
- If the Governor decides to grant or deny a pardon, the Governor notifies the Colorado legislature.
- The applicant is notified whether the application has been granted or denied.
- If denied, there is no appeals process. But the applicant can re-apply at a later time.
Before the pardon can be approved by the governor, it gets reviewed by the district attorney where the applicant was convicted, the judge who sentenced the applicant, and the attorney who prosecuted the applicant at trial. These individuals may provide comments on the application. They typically have ten days to respond.
The Governor’s office can also notify the victim(s) – if any – about the pardon application and invite comment. The Department of Corrections will notify the victim if the Governor grants the pardon.
Sometimes the applicant will be called for a personal interview or hearing with the Governor or Executive Clemency Advisory Board. The applicant should dress in business attire and – if permitted – bring family, employers, and community members for support.
5.1. Past pardons
Pardon’s often depend on the individual governor. Certain Colorado governors have historically granted pardons more than others. Up until September 2018, Governor John Hickenlooper has pardoned 66 people in his 8 years in office.
In his 8 years as the Governor of Colorado, Bill Owens pardoned 13 people. Gov. Bill Ritter pardoned 42 individuals. And in 2020, Governor Jared Polis pardoned more than 2,700 people for low-level cannabis /marijuana possession.14
5.2. Federal pardons
To apply for a federal pardon following a federal conviction, read the instructions at the Department of Justice, Office of Pardon Attorney website. Download the pardon application here.
6. How are pardons different from commutations?
A pardon and commutation of sentence are both forms of clemency requests in Colorado. A pardon is granted after conviction and after completion of the sentence. However, a commutation modifies a sentence. A pardon is only available after the sentence is completed and is not available to anyone who is currently spending time in prison.
A commutation can terminate an individual’s sentence, or shorten the sentence for someone who is currently incarcerated or in jail. As with a Governor’s pardon, the governor has the exclusive right to commute a sentence in Colorado.
Example: Mark and Elena were arrested for selling ecstasy and ketamine at a concert in Denver. Both Mark and Elena were charged with unlawful sale of a controlled substance under C.R.S. 18-18-405.
Mark negotiated a plea deal and was convicted of a Colorado level 3 drug felony and sentenced to 2 years in prison with 1-year mandatory parole. Elena took her drug crime case to trial and was found guilty.
Elena was convicted of a Colorado level 1 drug felony and sentenced to 15 years in prison with 3-years mandatory parole. About 14 years later, Mark has been out of prison and off parole for almost 11 years.
Elena is still serving time in jail. Mark has a job and family but still feels like his felony conviction is holding him back.
Mark can apply for a pardon because he has completed his sentence in the criminal justice system. Elena believes she has made great strides since she was convicted and wants to get out of jail early. Elena can apply to have her sentence commuted because she has not yet completed her sentence.
For more discussion, please see our article on how to apply to commute a sentence in Colorado. Applicants need to work with their case manager to obtain the commutation application. The commutation application requires such documentation as:
- LSI Assessment (Level of Service Inventory)
- CARAS Assessment (Colorado Actuarial Risk Assessment Scale)
- ADS (Admission Data Summary)
- Current psychological/psychiatric/ mental health / medical reports. (For serious medical conditions, include documentation from clinical personnel with diagnosis, prognosis, and recommendations.)
- Reports of disciplinary actions and sanctions, with details of offenses.
- Pre-sentence investigation reports/arrest affidavits/offense reports.
- Detainer/notification requests or other similarly relevant law enforcement communications
- Summary Commute Application/Waiver (provided by Offender Services to include time calculations)
- Any additional documentation that would assist the Governor in making an informed decision.15
Applications can be obtained online or by contacting Mark Noel at Executive Chambers, 136 State Capitol, Denver, CO 80203-1792. Or call (303) 866-2471.
7. Will a pardon seal my criminal record in Colorado?
A pardon is not an expungement or seal of the applicant’s criminal record. Pardoned crimes still show up on background checks. In short, pardons “forgive but do not forget.”
People seeking pardons in Colorado are encouraged to get a record seal as well, if possible. Not all convictions are sealable in Colorado. (Charges that were dismissed or resulted in an acquittal are always sealable.) Learn about how to seal criminal records in Colorado and how to expunge juvenile or UDD records in Colorado.
For further assistance…
If you or someone you know needs help with applying for a Governor’s pardon in Colorado, contact us at Colorado Legal Defense Group for a free consultation by phone or in-person or in our Denver law office. Our law firm offers payment plans and discount rates during the Covid 19 pandemic.
- Colorado Constitution, Article IV, § 7
- 18-12-108, C.R.S.
- 16-22-108, C.R.S.
- Colorado Judicial Department – Self Help – Relief from Collateral Consequences (“Your conviction may also bring about additional consequences other than the penalties imposed by the court. For example, you may not be able to get a certain type of job or license, or you may not be eligible for certain public benefits or housing.”); see also Saja Hindi, Colorado governor to mass-pardon 2,700-plus marijuana convictions, Denver Post (October 1, 2020)(Colorado Gov. Jared Polis used an executive order, and it applied only to convictions involving up to one ounce of marijuana possession for recreational use).
- Colorado Constitution, Article IV, § 7. See also John Herrick, Polis sets up new board to help determine who deserves clemency for past convictions, Colorado Independent (October 18, 2019).
- 16-17-103(1), C.R.S. (“A pardon issued by the governor shall waive all collateral consequences associated with each conviction for which the person received a pardon unless the pardon limits the scope of the pardon regarding collateral consequences.”); see People v. Archuleta, 638 P.2d 255 (1981).
- 18-1.3-903, C.R.S. Note that some states may not honor a Colorado pardon and would still require the person to register as a sex offender in that state.
- Colorado Constitution, Article VII, § 10 (“No person while confined in any public prison shall be entitled to vote; but every such person who was a qualified elector prior to such imprisonment, and who is released therefrom by virtue of a pardon, or by virtue of having served out his full term of imprisonment, shall without further action, be invested with all the rights of citizenship, except as otherwise provided in this constitution.”)
- 18-1.3.401(3), C.R.S. (“Every person convicted of a felony, whether defined as such within or outside this code, shall be disqualified from holding any office of honor, trust, or profit under the laws of this state or from practicing as an attorney in any of the courts of this state during the actual time of confinement or commitment to imprisonment or release from actual confinement on conditions of probation. Upon his or her discharge after completion of service of his or her sentence or after service under probation, the right to hold any office of honor, trust, or profit shall be restored, except as provided in section 4 of article XII of the state constitution.”)
- 16-17-102, C.R.S.
- Clemency, Colorado Department of Corrections.
- HB 20-1424 (2020); HB 21-1090 (2020). See also Marijuana Pardons, CBI.
- Marianne Goodland, Gov. Jared Polis pardons 2,732 convictions for low-level marijuana possession, Colorado Politics (October 1, 2020) (see 16-17-102 C.R.S: “(2) The governor may grant pardons to a class of defendants who were convicted of the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana. The requirements of subsection (1) of this section do not apply to defendants who were convicted of the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana, but the governor may make any inquiry as deemed appropriate to seek any relevant information necessary from any person or agency to reach an informed decision.“); Kirk Mitchell, Gov. Bill Ritter issues 29 pardons, commutations, Denver Post (May 4, 2016); David Migoya, Sometimes it’s anybody’s guess who gets pardoned or given clemency in Colorado, Denver Post (May 30, 2021); Nic Garcia, Hickenlooper pardons 26 Coloradans for theft, drug and other convictions, Denver Post (January 25, 2019).
- See People v. Herrera, 183 Colo. 155, 516 P.2d 626 (1973); People v. Arellano, 185 Colo. 280, 524 P.2d 305 (1974).