A freed person breaks out of their handcuffs.

Pardon vs. Expungement: What’s the Difference?

Today in the Findley & Rogers Law Blog we are looking at the difference between two terms: pardon vs. expungement. Both of these legal remedies are ways to restore rights that you have lost due to a criminal conviction.

At Findley & Rogers, we specialize in helping people like you exercise your rights under the law to take control of your criminal record, restore your rights, and get your life back on track. For more information on our legal services, learn what can be expunged from your record and how to restore your gun rights.

Meanwhile, to learn more about a pardon vs. expungement, read on.

What Is a Pardon?

A pardon is a legal action by the government. If a person has been convicted of a crime, or is facing criminal charges, then a pardon can relieve them of the legal consequences of that crime, such as imprisonment, fines, and losing the right to possess a firearm.

When comparing pardons vs. expungements, a pardon is much more difficult to obtain. For federal crimes, a pardon must be issued by the President of the United States, who usually issues pardons based on recommendations from legal advocates. For state crimes, the governor can issue pardons for crimes in that state. Like the president, they also tend to issue pardons based on recommendations from legal advocates.

  • Note: Pardons can be full or conditional. Conditional pardons can be highly specific, such as commuting a prison sentence but not canceling any related fines.

Pardons are hard to get, but they are very powerful. If you have a sympathetic case, you can hire a lawyer to lobby the state (or federal) government for a pardon, but the odds of success are very low.

What Is an Expungement?

When it comes to a pardon vs. expungement, expungements are much more common. Getting a conviction “expunged” (also called “vacated”) from your record means that the conviction will no longer be reported by anyone who searches your criminal history. This means you’ll show up clean on job applications, rental applications, credit applications, and so on. It also means you can legally say “no” if someone asks if you were convicted of a crime.

  • Note: If you have more than one conviction on your record, you must expunge all of your convictions before you can gain these advantages.

What Can Be Expunged from Your Record?

In Washington State, most felonies and nearly all misdemeanors can be expunged. Some convictions that CANNOT be expunged include:

  • Class A felonies (if convicted as an adult)
  • Many types of sexual assault and domestic violence convictions
  • Other crimes involving serious personal violence
  • Crimes designated as ‘Crimes Against Persons’ with a few exceptions
  • Driving Under the Influence

What’s the Difference: A Summary

When it comes to understanding a pardon vs. expungement, they’re actually very different:


  • A pardon lets you off the hook for some or all of the legal consequences of a crime (e.g., fines, jail time).
  • You’re technically still guilty (if already convicted) and the conviction remains on your record.
  • Virtually any crime can be pardoned.
  • Pardons are hard to get.


  • An expungement removes the crime from your record, but only after you’ve endured the legal consequences.
  • If asked (e.g., on an apartment application), you can legally say that you were not convicted of that crime.
  • Some crimes can’t be expunged.
  • Expungements are easier to get.

Learn More About Your Options and Rights

Many people don’t realize that state and federal law provides people with ways to get rid of old criminal convictions and move on with life. At Findley & Rogers, we are here to help. When it comes to getting a pardon vs. expungement, we focus on expungement because this is a better, easier, and cheaper option for most people who have an old conviction in their past to restore their rights and get their life back on track.

Contact us for a free consultation to discuss your situation, rights, and legal options. We will answer your questions about what can be expunged from your record. Let us guide you through the legal process and red tape of the expungement process.