Expunging a Record in Pennsylvania After Being Granted a Pardon

Commonwealth v. C.S.
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
December 23, 1987

Holding: A petitioner who has had his or her conviction pardoned may have their criminal records expunged.

Why This Case is Important: Generally, a person who is convicted of a crime is not eligible for expungement unless there is some narrow statutory exception. Asides from such an exception, the convicted petitioner will have his petition denied.

This case establishes the effect of a gubernatorial pardon. The governor has the power to grant such a pardon upon recommendation by a majority of the Board of Pardons. When the pardon is granted, the petitioner is freed from the burdens of his conviction. A pardon serves to release the offender from further punishment and from all legal disabilities resulting from the conviction. In other words, it is as if the defendant was never convicted of a crime (i.e. the former-convict is innocent in the eyes of the law).

The former-convict who obtains a gubernatorial pardon from the governor may apply for expungement of his criminal records. This is because the former-convict is viewed as innocent in the eyes of the law. The court in this case established that one could not be innocent in the eyes of the law and be unable to expunge his records. In order for the full effect of the pardon to be bestowed upon the former-convict, then he should also be able to have his records expunged.

As a result, a pardon will allow petitioners with a former conviction on his or her record to expunge their criminal records.

Facts of This Case: In 1954, the petitioner in this case was arrested for armed robbery. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a term of one-and-a-half to five years of imprisonment. In 1982, the petitioner applied for a gubernatorial pardon. The petitioner established that he had made personal and professional strides since his conviction. Furthermore, he established that his conviction was holding him back from obtaining better job. The board of pardons recommended the pardon be granted, and the Governor thereby granted the petition.

After the pardon was granted, the petitioner applied for expungement of his criminal records. The court however, denied his request on the grounds that it was not possible to expunge the record of a criminal conviction.

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania reversed the lower court’s decision. The Court determined that the Governor had the power to pardon an individual of their conviction. The Court held that such a pardon served to release the former-convict from further punishment and all legal disabilities. The Court stated that in the eyes of the law, the petitioner was innocent of the crime.

The Court concluded that in order to give effect to the pardon, the petitioner ought to be eligible to expunge his conviction. As such, the Court reversed the superior court’s decision and remanded to the court of common pleas for entry of an order expunging the petitioner’s criminal records.

Key Language: A pardon completely frees the offender from the control of the state. It not only exempts him from further punishment but also relieves him from all the legal disabilities resulting from his conviction. It blots out the very existence of his guilty, so that, in the eye of the law, he is thereafter as innocent as if he had never committed the offense. A pardon without expungement is not a pardon.

“In most states, a pardon releases a former convict from the legal disabilities of their conviction. This outcome is important in states such as Pennsylvania, where records of convictions normally cannot be expunged. This case establishes that those who receive a pardon are eligible to expunge their criminal records, even if they were convicted in the past.” -Attorney Mathew Higbee.

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