Most people who have a criminal conviction in South Carolina would like to have their record expunged and the information erased completely from the public’s view. Unfortunately, South Carolina only allows expungements for certain types of convictions under certain circumstances.
If you do not qualify for an expungement, a SC pardon may be the only option that is left to you.
The Basics of Pardons
A pardon is a determination by the state of South Carolina that you have been rehabilitated and that the state “forgives your crime.” More importantly, the state forgives the consequences of the crime.
Why would I want a pardon?
The consequences of a criminal conviction can be severe and permanent. Receiving a pardon ends the penalties that resulted from your conviction.
For example, you would regain your civil rights that you lost as a consequence of the conviction, such as:
- The right to hold office as a public servant.
- The right to serve on a jury.
- The right to own a firearm.
- The right to have a concealed weapon permit.
- The right to hold occupational licenses.
According to the South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services (SCDPPPS), during 2016, 74 percent of probationers and 84 percent of parolees completed their programs and are eligible to apply for pardons. Despite this, not everyone is aware that they can receive a pardon and what the benefit would be.
Pardons vs. Expungements
A pardon isn’t the same as an expungement. An expungement is preferable to a pardon because an expungement completely erases your criminal history of arrest or conviction.
When a government agency receives an expungement order, they are required to destroy all records of your arrest, detention, prosecution, and the disposition of your case. There are a few exceptions that allow agencies to retain records for a limited time solely for use in litigation or to confirm that a person is not entering a pretrial intervention program twice.
Pardons don’t erase your criminal history. Your conviction will still show up on a background check, along with the fact that it has been pardoned. The primary effect of receiving a pardon is 1) it shows potential employers and others that the State of South Carolina has determined that you have been rehabilitated, and 2) your civil rights are restored.
How do I Get a Pardon in SC?
You are not required to have an attorney to apply for a pardon in SC although many people do retain counsel. Retaining an experienced attorney to assist you in the pardon process can ensure that you include the right information in your pardon application and reference letters, and it can maximize your possibility of getting the pardon.
Applying for a pardon
To be eligible for a pardon, you must first pay all fees and restitution in full. You must have completed your sentence, which means you have served any prison term and supervision whether it is probation or parole. There is an exception for an incarcerated person who has a life expectancy of less than one year if that is confirmed by two doctors.
Although it is not required, in most cases we recommend waiting for a reasonable period of time after your conviction and sentence are completed before applying for a pardon. This will give you some time to document for the pardon board how your life has changed and that you are no longer engaging in criminal activities.
You must then submit a pardon application along with three letters of reference and a nonrefundable application fee. It is important to understand that whether you receive a pardon may depend on the information that is included in your pardon application and reference letters. In many cases, the pardon board has made their decision based on your application before the hearing.
Once the application has been submitted, it takes approximately nine months before a hearing is scheduled. The SCDPPPS Board will review your application, investigate the information you provided, and ultimately make a decision about whether or not to grant you a pardon.
The hearings are conducted in a conference room rather than a formal courtroom, and your attorney can represent you at the hearing. In some cases, the board will inform you that your application has been approved and there will be few or no questions. In other cases, the board members will ask you detailed and difficult questions to help them reach a decision.
How Can I Increase My Chance of Getting a Pardon?
Whether or not an applicant receives a pardon is entirely in the Board’s discretion. Applying for a pardon does not guarantee that you’ll get one.
Nevertheless, you can take actions to improve your chances of getting a pardon.
You must demonstrate that you are a changed person—that you’ve learned from your mistakes and changed for the better.
The letters of reference that you send in with your application are one way to show how you’ve grown as a member of society since your conviction, and your choice of who writes your referral letters can be persuasive in some cases. Other ways to demonstrate your transformation include documentation of community involvement, volunteer work, charitable contributions, educational achievements, and employment.
Another step you can take to increase your chance of success is to hire an attorney. A lawyer with experience in the criminal justice system and with the pardon board will know what information to present and how to present it to demonstrate that you are rehabilitated and deserving of a pardon.
Get a Second Chance. Talk to an Attorney Today.
Are you ready to put your criminal history and its negative effects behind you? Having an attorney on your side during the pardon process can be critical. You deserve an advocate who cares and who knows how to fight for your future.
The experienced pardon attorneys at Coastal Law, LLC, are here to help you. Call (843) 488-5000 now to schedule a free consultation about your pardon or fill out our online form.