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Avoiding Pitfalls in Obtaining a Pardon in Tennessee

Article by Nathan Moore

Getting a pardon is the last resort for those ineligible for expungement under Tennessee’s rigorous criminal conviction laws. The official name for a pardon is “executive clemency”.

In Tennessee, the pardon process is lengthy and difficult. The pardon is a concept in merit – you must demonstrate to the governor that you are deserving of a second chance, that you have a legitimate reason for wanting a pardon. There are many good reasons for desiring a pardon, such as wanting to obtain a professional certification or the desire to further one’s education. The pardon is the legal equivalent of things being forgiven, but not forgotten. A pardon in Tennessee does not erase the conviction from your record, but it shows that you have been forgiven by the state for whatever occurred. Obtaining a pardon can significantly reduce the otherwise legitimate concerns a potential employer or educational institution may have concerning your criminal past.

Carefully crafting to pardon application is of utmost importance: two-thirds of pardon applications are rejected outright by the Board of Probation and Parole, who is responsible for offering pardon recommendations to the governor. If the Board feels your application has sufficient merit, a hearing will be scheduled for you where you can make the case that you are worthy of pardon consideration.

There are a few minimum, bare requirements for applying for a pardon in Tennessee: you must have five (5) personal recommendations, you must have fully completed your sentence, and you must have stayed out of trouble since completing your sentence. These are, in fact, the bare minimums. Your chances are helped by the quality and quantity of your recommendations as well as your resume, so to speak, of self-betterment and community involvement. The key to success is demonstrated to the Board that you are worthy and “deserve” a pardon.

As is the case with many legal processes, it is a good idea to consult with a criminal lawyer knowledgeable of the clemency / pardon process before submitting your application. The low recommendation rate alone speaks to the difficulty and complexity of obtaining a pardon in Tennessee. Your best presentation is required if you are to have a chance at impressing the Board of Probation and Parole. One must think of the clemency process as a job interview, where you best foot forward is your only hope of getting hired. It is precisely the same when petitioning for a pardon; therefore, it is important to make sure you make your best first impression. It is vital that the Board think you worthy of forgiveness the first time they see you, and the only way to ensure that is extensive preparation.

About the Author

Nathan Moore is a defense lawyer whose practice is focused on criminal defendants. His office is based in Nashville, Tennessee, and he is certified to practice before the Tennessee Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and in the Middle District of Tennessee. If you are interested in petitioning for clemency, you can discover more about obtaining a pardon in Tennessee at his website,

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