Ralph Northam has granted pardons to over 1,200 Virginians over the past four years—including exonerating eight individuals who served lengthy prison sentences before being exonerated by additional evidence submitted in appellate courts. He also restored voting rights to more than 126,000 previously convicted felons.
“Virginians are forgiving people, who believe in second chances,” Governor Northam said. “When people make mistakes, and pay their debts, they deserve the opportunity to return and be productive members of society. We can all be proud that Virginia has been able to provide thousands of deserving people the opportunity for a fresh start.”
The Constitution of Virginia grants the Governor the authority to grant reprieves and pardons after conviction and restore the civil rights to individuals convicted of a felony.
A pardon is supposed to provide unique relief to individuals with exceptional circumstances who have demonstrated rehabilitation. A governor can grant three types of pardons: simple, conditional, or absolute. A pardon does not remove the crime from an individual’s record.
Governor Northam has acted on nearly 4,000 pardon petitions, far more than his predecessors. This was made possible by committing additional staff and resources to ensure those seeking clemency received consideration.
During his term Northam created new eligibility criteria, mirroring a proposed change to the Constitution of Virginia that would automatically restore voting rights to individuals upon completion of their sentence of incarceration. Before leaving office Northam announced that going forward, any Virginian released from incarceration would qualify to have their rights restored, even if they remain on community supervision.
Under current law, anyone convicted of a felony in Virginia loses their civil rights, including the right to vote, serve on a jury, run for office, become a public notary, and carry a firearm. Virginia remains one of three states in the nation whose constitution permanently suspends these rights but gives the governor the sole discretion to restore civil rights, excluding firearm rights.