It’s been many years since you completed your sentence on that felony conviction. You have really turned your life around. You are working a good job, have a good family and are contributing to society. Still, you would like to move past that mistake from your younger days.

Do you need an attorney to file for a pardon in Illinois? The truth is that while you can do it yourself, an attorney can greatly improve the odds of getting a favorable result.

To ask for a pardon, also known as executive clemency, you need to file a petition with the State of Illinois Prisoner Review Board. (Illinois Executive Clemency.) Petition deadlines occur four times yearly and track with the four hearing dates, which alternate between Springfield and Chicago.

The Petition requires you to fill out a form, which seems straightforward enough. You also need to supply information about your criminal history, as well as provide a personal story with supporting documentation. You could do all this yourself.

So why use an attorney? First, many people are not aware of how they come across to others. What you think of as self-deprecating humor may sound arrogant or snarky. What you think of as a reasonable justification might sound self-serving or whiny. What you think of as literate might come across as robotic and impersonal. The Board is never compelled to grant a pardon if they do not wish to do so, and there is no room for error.

Second, the Board wants to see a personal narrative. Many people do not know where to begin. An attorney can help find the thread of your life history and turn it into a compelling story.

Third, an attorney can make sure that the components of your petition are filed correctly, thus helping to prevent delays. If there is a mistake in the Petition, the Board may return it and you could lose your initial hearing date.

While you do not need to appear at hearing, it can help for the Board to see the person behind the story. Therefore, an attorney can help present you at your best on the hearing date. An attorney knows how to ask relevant questions to get your story across without the Board feeling like you are wasting their time. Petitioners generally have a limited time to make their pitch, and every moment counts.

Although an attorney cannot guarantee results, they can increase the chances of giving you a clean slate. If you have questions about pardons or another related criminal or traffic matter, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email

(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Wilmette and Winnetka.)

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