A governor’s pardon (clemency) in Colorado is public forgiveness for a crime after the sentence has been served. The governor has the power to forgive all crimes, except for treason or in the case of impeachment.1
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.
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 Colorado criminal defense lawyers discuss the following, below:
- 1. What is a Colorado governor’s pardon?
- 2. Who should apply for clemency in Colorado?
- 3. Who is eligible for a governor’s pardon in Colorado?
- 4. What are the 8 steps in applying for a pardon?
- 5. What is the process after applying for a pardon in Colorado?
- 6. Pardon vs. Commutation
- 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 laserdisc 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 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. Who should 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 professional license,
- No longer having to register as a sex offender, 7 and
- The right to avoid deportation based on criminal conviction.
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.
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 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.
Pardon Does Not Seal or Expunge the Criminal Record
A governor’s pardon does not 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 they were pardoned by the governor, this may cause employers or landlords to overlook the criminal record, in light of the official statement of public forgiveness.
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. What are the 8 steps in applying 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
5.1. What attachments 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 employer.
- Five (5) letters of reference, dated and addressed to the Governor.
- Reports from 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
5. What is the process after 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:
- 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 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, the applicant can re-apply for a governor’s pardon.
Before the pardon can be approved by the governor, it is to be presented to 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 comment on the application.
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.
6. Pardon vs. Commutation
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. Like 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 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.
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.13
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.
Juveniles in Colorado can expunge their criminal record. However, there are only limited situations where an adult criminal record can be sealed, including:
- Charged dismissed or ended in acquittal,
- Certain drug crimes,
- Crimes related to victims of sex trafficking, and
- Petty or municipal offenses.
Under Colorado law, individuals who have been convicted of certain controlled substance crimes can have their records sealed. Similarly, crimes associated with sex trafficking may be sealed for sex trafficking victims, such as prostitution or public indecency.
Charges that were dismissed or resulted in an acquittal can be sealed 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. Contact us today 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
- 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.
- 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.
- State of Colorado – Executive Clemency Application
- See People v. Herrera, 183 Colo. 155, 516 P.2d 626 (1973); People v. Arellano, 185 Colo. 280, 524 P.2d 305 (1974).