Is a pardon the same as expungement?

A pardon and an expungement are two different legal mechanisms with different legal results. Learn more about the advantages and limits of each.

By , J.D.

Question: 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. On the other hand, 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). But it does not clear your record. For instance, a person who receives a federal pardon will still have a criminal record—it will contain a notation of the pardon. Only in a few states will a pardon clear one's record. Many states treat pardons the same way as the federal government does, by allowing public access to the record and adding a notation indicating the pardon. To learn more, check out the Collateral Consequences Resource Center's 50-state comparison of pardon policies and effects.

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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