Glossary of Terms

In North Carolina, the Governor has the power to grant clemency in the form of  commutations and pardons.

Commutation - whereby an individual presently incarcerated and serving an active sentence has their sentence commuted or reduced by any number of years, months, or days, or to make parole eligible, or to time served which would release the individual immediately.

Pardon - may be granted to those individuals who have maintained a good reputation in their community, following the completion of their sentence for a criminal offense.  Ordinarily, an applicant must wait to apply until at least five years have elapsed since the applicant was released from State supervision (including probation or parole).  A Pardon is merely an official statement attached to the criminal record that states that the State of North Carolina has pardoned the crime.

A Pardon does not expunge or erase a criminal record. Under the North Carolina Constitution, the Executive Branch does not have the authority to expunge a criminal record.  The Judicial Branch handles the process of expungement that clears an individual's criminal record pursuant to N.C.G.S. §§ 15A-145, 146 and 149.  An individual would need to contact an attorney of their choice to pursue expungement of a criminal record through the Judicial System.

 There are three types of Pardons:

  1. Pardon of Forgiveness – Pardon most frequently requested.  The Pardon basically states that the individual has been pardoned and forgiven of their criminal conviction.  This Pardon is granted with certain conditions.
  2. Pardon of Innocence – Pardon granted when an individual has been convicted and the criminal charges are subsequently dismissed.  Application for this type of Pardon allows an individual to petition the Governor for a declaration of innocence when the individual has been erroneously convicted and imprisoned and later determined to be innocent.  In such cases where this Pardon is granted, an individual is allowed to seek compensation from the State.  Please refer to N.C.G.S. § 148-82, regarding Provision for Compensation and N.C.G.S. § 148-84, regarding Evidence; Action by Industrial Commission; Payment and Amount of Compensation.
  3. Unconditional Pardon – Pardon granted primarily to restore an individual’s right to own or possess a firearm.  This Pardon is granted without any conditions or restrictions.

Probation - A suspended sentence of imprisonment contingent on the observance of conditions set forth by the court, violation of which empowers the court to revoke the suspension and activate the prison or jail sentence

Suspended sentence - a necessary part of probation, an active prison or jail sentence to be served if the conditions of probation are violated and probation is revoked


Governor's Clemency Office
4294 Mail Service Center 
Raleigh, N.C.  27699-4294 
Phone: 919-715-1695 
Fax: 919-715-8623
e-mail: clemency@nc.gov