Legal Hotline: Board of Pardons

  • Sep 28, 2017

Melissa Melewsky, Media Law Counsel

Q:  Are clemency applications and hearings before the Pa Board of Pardons public?

A: Clemency applications are public records.  Public hearings are held in all clemency cases involving capital cases and on applications for other crimes at the board’s discretion.  Public notice of all hearings must be provided. 

The Pennsylvania Board of Pardons has the authority to hear and make recommendations to the Governor related to applications for clemency, including pardon requests and requests seeking commutation of sentences for:

  1. Death sentence to life imprisonment
  2. Life imprisonment to life on parole
  3. Minimum sentence
  4. Maximum sentence

Applications seeking a pardon or commutation of sentence are public records. See 37 Pa.Code 81.227.  For applications involving capital cases (death sentence cases), the board must hold a public hearing to decide the application.  For applications dealing with life sentences or sentences for crimes of violence, a vote by a majority of the board is required to grant a public hearing. In all other cases, except capital cases, two votes are required for a public hearing to be granted. See 37 Pa.Code 81.231.

If a public hearing is to be held, the board must provide public notice of the following information:

  1. The applicant’s true name and other names by which the applicant is or has been known.
  2. The crimes for which the applicant has applied for clemency.
  3. The institution, if any, in which the applicant is confined.
  4. The time and place of the public hearing at which the application will be heard.

The public notice of hearing must be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the county where the crimes were committed, and the notice must appear at least one week prior to the date of the hearing, except in capital cases. If the board meets during emergency session to consider an application in a capital case, 1 week prior notice may be impossible. If time permits, notice of public hearings in capital cases will be made as provided above, and at a minimum, at least 24 hour notice will be given for all hearings involving capital cases. See 37 Pa.Code 81.233.

Photographs and other recording of the public hearing are permitted as long as 24 hours notice is provided to the board’s Secretary. See 37 Pa.Code 81.263.

Many of the board’s records are public, including monthly calendars, minutes of public hearings, vote sheets of public hearings, completed applications and lists of actions taken by the Governor. The board’s written recommendations to the Governor are also public, after the Governor has acted on an application. See 37 Pa.Code 81.304.

As always, this is not intended to be, and should not be construed as, legal advice.  Please call the PNA Legal Hotline with questions at (717) 703-3080.

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