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Experts explain the new expedited pardon process

Legal News Reporter

Published: January 13, 2020

A governmental pardon can increase a person’s chance of landing a job, allow an individual to legally possess a firearm or serve as a juror, among other things, but until very recently the process could take years. Now some Ohioans who previously served time may be able to apply for an expedited pardon.
On Dec. 3, 2019, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine joined Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Director Annette Chambers-Smith, Lincoln Davies, dean at The Ohio State University (OSU) Moritz College of Law and The University of Akron School of Law Dean Christopher J. (C.J.) Peters at OSU’s Moritz College of Law to announce the Expedited Pardon Project.
A collaboration between the governor’s office, the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center at Ohio State’s Moritz College of Law and Akron Law’s Reentry Clinic, the project shortens the clemency process for certain residents who have consistently demonstrated that they are rehabilitated and contributing to society.
Joann Sahl, director of the Reentry Clinic at Akron Law will be working closely with OSU Drug Enforcement and Policy Center Executive Director Douglas Berman to identify good candidates for the new pardon process.
“I expect we will receive a large number of applications since the process is open to residents in all 88 counties,” said Sahl.
To qualify, applicants must have no felony or misdemeanor criminal convictions in the last ten years and they must have completed all the requirements of their sentences prior to the ten-year period. In addition, all court-ordered restitution and/or court costs must be paid prior to applying.
There are a number of disqualifying offenses, including serious and violent crimes such as aggravated murder, murder, rape, sexual battery, unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, human trafficking, kidnapping, domestic violence and other charges.
Applicants must provide a compelling reason for seeking the pardon and have some post-offense employment history or explain why they could not obtain a job. Finally, they must have performed some volunteer or non-court ordered community service or otherwise demonstrate efforts to give back.
“Our team at Ohio State worked quite a bit on the program’s infrastructure and helped the governor’s office define the criteria and process for the new project,” said Berman, professor and Newton D. Baker-Baker & Hostetler Chair in Law.
“It has been considerable work to get all the pieces in place,” said Berman. “We also hope that after the process gets started, we might recommend whether and how to best refine the criteria for being eligible for the expedited process.”
Sahl said residents who believe they meet the current criteria should go to to learn more about the process, required documentation and where to send the paperwork.
“My reentry clinic students and I will do the initial review of the applications to see who meets the screening criteria,” said Sahl. “Professor Berman and I will then discuss the cases and decide which applicants might be good candidates for an expedited pardon and submit those applications to the Ohio Parole Board.”
If the Ohio Parole Board decides a candidate looks promising, Sahl said the person will receive assistance from Akron Law and Moritz College of Law students and other community partners in preparing a full application and gathering supporting evidence.
The full packet is then submitted and reviewed by the Ohio Parole Board, which decides whether to grant the candidate a board hearing.
“After the hearing, the Parole Board submits recommendations to the governor within 30 days. The governor makes the final decision on the applicant,” she said.
Sahl said she has already identified a handful of Summit County residents who were in the process of seeking a regular pardon through the reentry clinic, who may be eligible to receive an expedited pardon.
So far, two of Sahl’s current students are working on expedited pardons in the reentry clinic.
“Those students have already taken my reentry clinic course,” she said. “I expect to have six more students working on the project for school credit.”
Once the spring semester begins, Sahl plans to collaborate with the school’s legal writing professors to identify 1Ls who are interested in helping to prepare full pardon applications.
“This will enable students to have the opportunity to work on real client cases much earlier in their law school careers,” said Sahl.
Berman said those who don’t qualify for an expedited pardon can still seek a pardon through the regular process or explore another remedy, such as having their records sealed or obtaining a Certificate of Qualification for Employment (CQE)--both of which involve an application to a court rather than to the governor.
Berman also plans to use some of the data collected to create research projects that focus on which Ohioans are seeking a pardon and why.
“There is very little existing research on exactly why persons seek a pardon and on how a pardon may impact the recipient,” said Berman. “In addition to helping Ohioans, we hope to gain insights from this project that could help make criminal justice systems around the country more effective and compassionate.”