You have a loved one in prison. He hung out with some people who were not his friends and got involved in a robbery. You want to shorten what seems like an unfair sentence. Are you looking for a commutation or a pardon?

It depends on whether your loved one has completed his or her sentence. If you want to get someone out of prison, a commutation could shorten their sentence. If your loved one has completed their sentence and cannot seal or expunge their record, they can petition for a pardon.

A commutation can be granted for health reasons or if it appears your loved one has learned from their mistakes and deserves a second chance. Note that a commutation is not an appeal. Rather than asserting your loved one is innocent or that mistakes were made at trial, a petition for commutation typically involves accepting responsibility for the underlying offense and showing how he or she has changed.

In contrast, a pardon enables the governor to nullify a conviction, one for which a sentence (in or out of prison) has already been satisfied. A pardon typically allows a defendant to expunge their criminal record, though the final order to do so will be at the discretion of a judge in the county where the case originated.

Either petition for commutation or pardon generally includes character references along with other exhibits, which are then sent to the Illinois Board of Prison Review. The Board makes a recommendation to the governor who then makes the final decision. Your loved one may ask for a public hearing before the Board. For a commutation, your loved one will not be allowed to appear in person at the hearing, but you can still testify on their behalf.

If you have questions about petitioning for a pardon or commutation, 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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