Under the Illinois Constitution, the governor has the authority to pardon someone who has been convicted of a crime by granting clemency. When petitioning for clemency, one can also request permission to have the criminal record expunged. If expungement is then granted by a judge, however, the record of the conviction is not removed from the Illinois State Police database, but access to it is restricted.
How to obtain clemency
In Illinois, if you want to obtain clemency from the governor you must first submit a petition for clemency with the Illinois Prisoner Review Board (PRB). Anyone has the right to request clemency as long as PRB procedural requirements are met, including filing deadlines and providing all required information in the petition.
The petition must include detailed information about the crime for which you are seeking clemency, a summary of your criminal history (other than the crime for which you are seeking clemency), a personal-history statement, why you are seeking clemency and why you believe you should be granted clemency.
When clemency petitions are accepted
The PRB accepts petitions for clemency four times a year and holds public hearings for persons who wish to appear before the board to personally argue their cases for clemency and/or have character witnesses speak on their behalf. Appearing before the PRB is optional, but filing the petition is mandatory.
The PRB then submits a confidential recommendation to the governor, either supporting or opposing your request for clemency. The recommendation is never made public.
How long it takes
Currently, it takes approximately a year (from filing) to receive a decision from the governor. Under Governor Bruce Rauner, the backlog of pending clemency petitions was finally eliminated.
At one time, it took up to 3 to 4 years to get a decision. In addition to the elimination of the backlog, fewer individuals have been petitioning for clemency. This may be in part because of the small number of petitions that Governor Rauner has granted in comparison to his predecessor, Pat Quinn.
How many petitions are granted
During Governor Pat Quinn's tenure, which ended in January 2015, 4,928 petitions for clemency were ruled on - the most of any sitting Illinois governor. All told, 1,795 petitions for clemency (36%) were granted. This figure represents individuals who were represented by legal counsel and those who were not. Governor Quinn granted more petitions for clemency than any other governor currently in place.
Since 2015, when Governor Bruce Rauner came into office, obtaining clemency has become infinitely more difficult. Through June 30, 2018, Governor Rauner has granted 67 and denied 1022 petitions, an overall grant rate of 6%.
Clemency is still the only available remedy for those who need relief for the following:
- Reinstating your gun rights (obtain a FOID card) (applies to both juvenile and adult crimes)
- Removing lifetime barrier to obtaining a health care worker license
- Eliminating record of disciplinary action against a licensee due to a criminal conviction
- All convictions (and supervision sentencing) not eligible for sealing
- Seeking rehearing on an ICE order of removal (for a non-drug criminal offense)
Because the power to grant clemency for a state criminal offense rests solely with the governor. If a new governor is voted into office in Illinois this November, we will have to wait and see how the new governor will wield his clemency pen.