Is a pardon the same as expungement?

Answer: No, a pardon and an expungement are two different things. They are sometimes compared to forgiving and forgetting. If you are pardoned for an offense, the government "forgives" you for your crime—but depending on the state, your criminal record may not be erased. If your record is expunged, it is "forgotten" for most purposes and likely sealed from public view.

Receiving a pardon frees you from the conditions of your sentence and restores your civil rights (such as the right to vote or sit on a jury). In a few states, a pardon also completely clears your record or seals it from public view, but in many states, it does not. For example, many states continue to allow public access to the record, simply adding a notation that you have been pardoned for the crime.

For expunged records, most states will prevent the public from seeing the record, meaning most prospective employers, landlords, or loan agents will not know it exists. But an expunged record will still be available for criminal justice purposes, such as future criminal charges or sentencing.

In states that do not clear your record when you are granted a pardon, you must apply separately to have your record expunged. To learn more about how to expunge or seal a criminal record in your state, see Expunging or Sealing an Adult Criminal Record.

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