Executive clemency is a remedy available to those who would like to have their convictions expunged but are legally unable to do so under the Criminal Identification Act (Illinois’ expungement law). While the aim is the same (removing a conviction from one’s record), the executive clemency process is different from expungement and post-conviction proceedings in many ways:
- Foremost, clemency is sought from the Governor, not the courts. Unlike expungement and post-conviction proceedings, where a petitioner would be seeking relief from a judge from the judicial branch of the state government, a petitioner in a clemency proceeding seeks relief from the head of the executive branch of state government—the Governor.
- The process for seeking clemency is also unique. A petitioner seeking clemency files their petition with the Prisoner Review Board (PRB). The petition must be in writing and signed by the petitioner or someone working on his or her behalf (such as an attorney). It contains a brief history of the case, the reasons for seeking clemency, and other information that can be useful to the PRB in determining whether someone should receive clemency.
- Once the PRB receives a petitioner’s clemency petition, the PRB will notify the petitioner of his or her hearing date, if one is requested. There are only a handful of hearing dates each year, occurring in Chicago and Springfield. The PRB will assign a hearing date and location for the petitioner based on when the petition was filed.
- At the hearing, the petitioner (and his or her attorney, if represented by counsel) gets to make their case for clemency to a board of PRB hearing officers, who have reviewed the petitioner’s petition in advance of the hearing. The petitioner can directly address the PRB hearing officers, and the PRB hearing officers can directly question the petitioner.
- After the hearing with the PRB hearing officers, those officers will meet among themselves and make a confidential recommendation to the Governor as to whether clemency should be granted or not. The Governor can then adopt the hearing officers’ recommendation or reject it. If the Governor adopts the recommendation, then the petitioner’s conviction can be expunged or, if he or she is imprisoned, his or her sentence can be commuted.
- Anyone can petition for clemency. Clemency is an available option for anyone, regardless of the conviction or sentence.
- A clemency petitioner can petition for clemency at any time.
- A clemency petition can also petition for clemency as many times as they wish, though a clemency petition must wait one year after his or her petition was denied before filing again unless new and significant information becomes available that was not available when the petitioner filed their previous petition of if the petitioner “can show that a change in circumstances of a compelling humanitarian nature has arisen since the denial of the prior petition.”
While the law does not require that a clemency petitioner hire an attorney to file his over her clemency petition, attorneys experienced in the area of executive clemency provide valuable assistant to the clemency petitioner that could increase the chance of the petition being granted.
- For one, the clemency petition itself demands information from a petitioner’s criminal case that may be difficult for the petitioner to obtain by him or herself. The petitioner also has to comply with strict notice and service requirements that also require significant information gathering.
- But most importantly an experienced Illinois executive clemency attorney can advise a petitioner on what the PRB and the Governor are looking for in an executive clemency petition and how best to present that information in a way that will be most likely to get the PRB and Governor’s attention.
- While there are no written, statutory criteria for the types of information that should be included and emphasized in a clemency petition, experienced counsel will know what the PRB and Governor place the most importance on and will know how best to present that information in a way that makes their client’s clemency petition stand out from the rest.