Gov. Ralph Northam’s office announced steps on Thursday designed to help ease a backlog of requests for pardons and smooth the application process.
Northam’s office said in a news release that there’s been a “major influx” of pardon petitions during his administration and that of previous Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Northam has declined to disclose the number of cases in the backlog or the number of state employees assigned to investigate cases.
The governor’s office redesigned its pardon website and petition portal and is eliminating a requirement that petitioners obtain a copy of their criminal history from Virginia State Police, which can be expensive.
“The launch of this new website and petition portal furthers the Governor’s commitment to transparency and good government for the people of Virginia,” Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson said in the news release. “Enabling Virginians to submit their petitions online also improves efficiency of the clemency process, allowing pardons staff to spend less time opening and sorting mail and more time reviewing petitions.”
The governor’s news release said “thousands” of pardon petitions were pending when McAuliffe took office in 2014.
The extensive review process means most decisions don’t receive a decision for “several years,” the news release said. By the time his term ends next year, Northam expects to have granted more pardons than all other Virginia governors combined. He has granted nearly 300 so far.
“A pardon provides unique relief to individuals with exceptional circumstances who have demonstrated rehabilitation,” the governor’s news release said. “If an individual feels they are able to provide substantial evidence of such exceptional circumstances, they may petition the governor for a pardon..