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Granting Second Chances: Wisconsin’s Pardon Process

Criminal arrests and subsequent convictions can have very real and long-lasting effects on the lives and careers of those convicted. Having a criminal record can affect employment prospects, obtaining professional licenses, owning firearms, and holding public office, along with several other civil rights.

The Wisconsin State Constitution gives the governor the power to grant pardons, clemency, and reprieves. Governor Tony Evers has recently indicated that Wisconsin may begin considering pardon applications again. A pardon is essentially a restoration of any and all civil rights that were curtailed after a criminal conviction. Like presidential pardons, these considerations are usually only granted after a substantial period of time has passed since the sentence has been served. A pardon can either be full or partial, with the ultimate decision vested in the governor and upon his discretion.

In early October 2019, Governor Evers pardoned Eric Pizer, Kevin Sorenson, Mwangi Vasser, and Steven Nichols, saying that the four “have paid their debt to society, made amends, and contributed to their communities. I believe they deserve a second chance.” Pizer was involved in a bar fight at 22 after coming home from his second tour in Iraq as a Marine. Now 38, his felony battery conviction has restrained him from pursuing a career in law enforcement and being able to hunt. Sorenson was convicted of selling ecstasy at 17, and receiving a pardon will open up military service opportunities for him. Vasser was arrested at 19 for selling cocaine, and a pardon will allow him to pursue a career as a military chaplain as he recently graduated with a doctorate in theology. Nichols was convicted of felony burglary at 21, and now, 40 years later, a pardon will enable him to hunt and travel to Canada.

Applications for pardons are made to the governor and are reviewed by the pardon counsel or pardon advisory board. A governor’s pardon is only available for state crimes and not federal ones. Historically, while deciding whether or not they will grant pardons, the pardon counsel and governor have considered several factors including the seriousness of the criminal offense, the applicant’s criminal record, the applicant’s rehabilitation, any public service or involvement in the community that the applicant has done, and how much time has passed since the crime took place.

Governor Evers outlined the criteria that must be met before an application is considered.

“You are eligible for a pardon only if all of the following conditions apply to you:

  1. You are seeking a pardon for a Wisconsin felony conviction.

  2. You have completed your entire sentence at least five (5) years ago. This means you:

  • Completed all confinement; and

  • Completed supervised release (e.g., probation, parole, or extended supervision).

  1. You have not been convicted of any new criminal offense since you completed your sentence, and you are not currently subject to any pending criminal charges. This includes offenses and charges in any jurisdiction.

  2. You are not currently required to register as a sex offender under Wis. Stat. § 301.45.

The Pardon Advisory Board will deny, without a hearing, any applications that do not meet the above criteria. You will be notified if your application is denied due to ineligibility.”

A pardon does not necessary erase or seal a conviction, nor does it keep a criminal record from appearing on background checks. However, a pardon does restore rights lost as a result of a conviction and also makes those pardoned more attractive to employers after learning that a pardon was granted.

Receiving a pardon can make a huge difference in the life of a convicted and rehabilitated individual. At Levine Eisberner LLC, our experienced attorneys can guide you through the application process and advise you on achieving the fresh start you desire. Call us now for a free consultation at 1-888-367-8198.


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