Restoration of Rights & Record Relief
Last updated: January 24, 2020
I. Loss & restoration of civil/firearms rights
A person convicted of one of 47 disqualifying felonies—including murder, sexual assault, drug trafficking, and some property crimes—loses the rights to vote, to run for state office, and to serve on a jury. (All felonies are basis of challenge.) The right to vote is restored upon application after completion of sentence, including payment of fines and restitution, so long as no other charges are pending. This expedited restoration process does not apply to persons convicted of serious violent or sex offenses who may vote only if pardoned by the governor. The rights to run for office, serve on a jury, or possess a handgun can only be restored by a pardon. Restoration process also applies to those with federal and out-of-state convictions.
A person convicted of a violent crime loses the right to possess a handgun. This right can only be restored by a pardon.
A person convicted of “a felony involving moral turpitude, or who is mentally incompetent, shall [not] be qualified to vote until restoration of civil and political rights or removal of disability.” Ala. Const. art. VIII, § 177.1 In May of 2017, the Felony Voter Disqualification Act limited the definition of “felony involving moral turpitude” under § 177 to 47 specified offenses, including many serious violent offenses, sex offenses, offenses against children, drug trafficking offenses (but not drug possession), and various property crimes.2 See Ala. Code § 17-3-30.1 (enacted by HB-282 (2017)). Restoration by pardon or administrative procedure (infra).
Expedited restoration of voting rights
A 2003 statute requires the Board of Pardons and Paroles to issue a “certificate of eligibility to register to vote” to all persons convicted of disqualifying offenses (except those convicted of serious violent offenses and sex offenses) if they have completed their sentence and paid all fines, restitution and court costs, and have no charges pending against them. Ala. Code § 15-22-36.1. Restoration is automatic upon determination of eligibility, but an application is required. Persons convicted of murder and sex offenses must still apply to the Board for a pardon. Id. (See discussion in Part IIA infra). People with federal and out-of-state offenses are eligible to apply for restoration of voting rights and for pardon.
B. Office-holding and Jury
Someone who is not a qualified elector is “ineligible to and disqualified from holding” state office. Ala. Code § 36-2-1; see Ala. Code § 15-22-36.1(a)(1), (3). A person is not “qualified” to sit on a jury if she has “lost the right to vote by conviction for any offense involving moral turpitude.” Ala. Code § 12-16-60(a)(4). If lost, these civil rights may be restored only through a pardon from Board of Pardons and Parole. (The expedited procedure for restoration of voting rights described above does not apply to these other civil rights.)
Any person convicted in any jurisdiction of committing a “crime of violence” may not own, possess or exercise control over “a pistol,” meaning a firearm with a barrel of less than 12 inches in length. See Ala. Code. §§ 13A-11-70(1), 13A-11-72. Restoration by pardon, unless restoration specifically withheld. State ex rel. Sokira v. Burr, 580 So. 2d 1340, 1345 (Ala. 1991).
II. Pardon policy & practice
An independent board appointed by the governor exercises pardon power independent of the governor, except in capital cases. The board must make an annual report to governor. A person is eligible to apply upon completion of sentence or after three years of permanent parole. The application form is simple (“intended to facilitate application by individuals who lack formal education”) and is filed with the local probation office. A public hearing is required, with notice to officials and victim, with reasons given if denied. There is a separate paper procedure for restoration of civil rights, also available to people with federal and out-of-state convictions. The effect is as specified in grant, but a pardoned conviction is not sealed and serves as a predicate. Pardons are frequent and the process regular and governed by statute; process takes about one year. More than 500 full pardons are granted each year, 80% of those who apply, plus many more rights restorations.
In 1939, the Alabama legislature was granted the pardon power by an amendment to the state constitution. It created the Board of Pardons and Parole to exercise the power, which extends to all offenses save treason and impeachment. Ala. Const. amend. 38 (amending art. V § 124). The governor retains reprieve and commutation authority in capital cases. The Board’s administration and procedure is governed by Ala. Code §§ 15-22-20 through 15-22-40. Mayors have authority to pardon violations of municipal ordinances.3
Composition of Board: The Board is composed of three members who are appointed by the governor to six-year terms with the advice and consent of the state senate. Ala. Code § 15-22-20(a)-(d). Members are selected by the governor from a slate nominated by a board consisting of the state chief justice as chair, the lieutenant governor, the presiding judge of the court of criminal appeals, the speaker of the house and the president pro tem of the senate. § 15-22-20(b). The chairperson is designated by the governor. § 15-22-20(d). Members are full-time state officials, take an oath of office, and are subject to impeachment on the same grounds as other State officials. § 15-22-20(e). The Board must make a full annual report to the governor. § 15-22-24(b).
Completion of sentence, or completion of at least three years of permanent parole, unless the pardon is sought on grounds of innocence and the judge or district attorney approve in writing. Ala. Code § 15-22-36(c). Persons convicted of a felony or certain other offenses involving danger to the person must submit to the taking of a DNA sample as a mandatory condition of the pardon. Ala. Code § 36-18-25(f). Board accepts applications from people with federal convictions and people convicted in other state jurisdictions residing in the state. See Article 8 of Ala. Board Rules, Regulations and Procedures. See Hogan v. Hartwell, 7 So. 2d 889 (Ala. 1942) (Board had authority to restore citizenship and political rights of person with federal conviction, as against contention that a pardon by President was essential to restore the lost rights).
A pardon does not wipe out the historical fact of the conviction; it involves forgiveness and not forgetfulness. Johnson v. State, 421 So.2d 1306 (Ala. Crim. App. 1982). A state pardon does not relieve civil and political disabilities “unless specifically expressed in the pardon.” Ala. Code § 15-22-36(c); see also Ala. Code § 17-3-31. A person who has forfeited his office as a result of felony conviction is not restored to that office by a pardon. Ala. Code § 36-9-2; see also Hendrix v. Hunt, 607 So. 2d 1254 (Ala. 1992). “[A] pardon that restores to an individual all civil rights and political privileges necessarily nullifies all legal punishment for the offense. In other words, if the conviction incorporates certain civil and political disqualifications, then a pardon that specifically revives all civil and political rights must certainly remove any and all legal incapacities,” including handgun privileges. State ex rel. Sokira v. Burr, 580 So.2d 1340, 1345 (Ala. 1991). The Board may grant a full pardon, which restores all rights, or it may grant a pardon with restrictions (e.g., firearms privileges, sex offender registration, habitual offender status). After the Sokira decision, it became common for the Board of Pardons and Parole to expressly exclude the right to own/possess/control a firearm from the restoration of civil rights. See Ala. Op. Atty Gen. No. 1999-060, 1998 WL 34309449, *1, 3 (1998).
Hearing required, vote by majority, decision and reasons for it made public. Board has no power to grant a pardon or other act of clemency unless the action is taken in an open public meeting, of which 30 days’ notice has been given to the Attorney General, the DA who prosecuted the case and the sentencing judge, the chief of police and the county sheriff, and the victim. Ala. Code §§ 15-22-23, 15-22-36; see also Article 4 of the Ala. Board Rules, supra. Application to Board of Pardons and Parole is very simple form filed with local probation office that is “intended to facilitate application by individuals who lack formal education.” Ala. Admin. Code r. 640-X-6-.01. Investigation by a local probation officer includes current information on the applicant’s home situation, job status, and an updated criminal arrest record, written references and other information as warranted. See Article 8 of Ala. Board Rules, supra. The Board may not act on any application or case until a complete investigation of the prisoner’s social and criminal record has been made by a parole officer and a written report thereof made a part of the prisoner’s file. Ala. Code § 15-22-25 (b). Once the investigation is complete, a hearing will be set before the Board. Required notification will be sent to the victim and concerned officials. At hearing, a decision is made by majority vote to grant or deny the pardon request, and announced. Process takes about a year from beginning to end. See Article 6 of the Ala. Board Rules. These same procedures will apply to a request for a Certificate of Eligibility to Register to Vote, except where superseded by Ala. Code § 15-22-36.1 (see below, providing for paper review).
Board Orders granting pardons, with or without restoration of civil and political rights, are public records. The statements of reasons filed by each member voting in favor of such grant are public records. However, pardon files are otherwise confidential. Ex parte Alabama Bd. of Pardons and Paroles, 814 So. 2d 870 (Ala. 2001). Petitioner is not entitled to inspect his own file or to have a reason for denial. Ex parte Alabama Bd. of Pardons and Paroles, 849 So. 2d 255 (Ala. Crim. App. 2002).
Expedited process to restore voting rights: In October 2003, the Alabama legislature enacted an expedited process for restoring right to vote to be administered by the Board, applicable to all but specified serious violent offenses and sex offenses. Ala. Code § 15-22-36.1. Eligibility depends upon applicant having completed sentence, including payment of fines, court costs, fees, and victim restitution ordered by the sentencing court; may have no pending felony charges. In 2005, the Attorney General of Alabama opined that if a person has been convicted of both a disqualifying and a non-disqualifying offense, the person must have satisfied all terms and conditions of the non-disqualifying offense in order to be considered for restitution. Ala. Op. Atty. Gen. No. 2005-092 (March 18, 2005). If a person is determined to be eligible, the right to vote must be restored. § 15-22-36.1(b). Restoration is also available to people with federal and out-of-state offenses. § 15-22-36.1(a)(1).
The application process may include investigation by parole officer and report to Board within 45 days. If no board member objects within five days, issuance of Certificate of Eligibility to Vote is automatic. § 15-22-36.1(e). If any member of Board objects on grounds of eligibility, hearing scheduled. § 15-22-36.1(f). In the event the board determines, by a majority vote, that the criteria have been met, the executive director shall forthwith issue a Certificate of Eligibility to Register to Vote to the applicant. Id.
E. Frequency of grants
Applications for pardon have increased in recent years because pardon is necessary for employment and bonding purposes, and to regain firearms rights. In Fiscal 2017-2018, 830 people were pardoned, about 80% of those who applied. A substantial number of pardons go to those previously granted restoration of voting rights. The Board issues annual reports that contain statistics on pardon hearings and grants. https://paroles.alabama.gov/resources/annual-reports/.
Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles, PO Box 302405
Montgomery, AL 36130
Tel: (334) 353-7771, 353-8067
III. Expungement, sealing and other record relief
Record relief: In 2021, Alabama enacted its first authority for expunging adult convictions, extended relief to non-violent misdemeanors and pardoned felonies, with exceptions for violent and sexual offenses, and any offense of moral turpitude under the disenfranchisement statute. Victims of human trafficking may petition the court to expunge convictions of misdemeanors and some felonies, including certain violent felonies, that are related to trafficking. Expungement is authorized for non-convictions: where a misdemeanor or non-violent felony charge did not result in conviction, including where a charge was dismissed after successful completion of various diversion programs (drug, mental health and veterans’ court), or where any felony charge resulted in acquittal. Juvenile records may be sealed on petition two years after final discharge or other final order, and destroyed five years after the age of majority, if the person has no prior or subsequent record. Judicial certificate: An individual who is legally barred from obtaining a specific occupational license due to a conviction may apply to the court for an “Order for Limited Relief” to permit discretionary consideration on the merits.
A. Conviction records
Victims of human trafficking
Alabama law contains no statutory provision for expungement or sealing of adult conviction records, with one narrowly drawn exception, enacted in 2018, to allow expungement of records—including convictions—resulting from a person’s being a victim of human trafficking. See HB 305 (2018). Under this law, when the person can prove by a preponderance of the evidence that she or he is a victim of human trafficking, committed an offense during the period of being trafficked, and would not have committed the offense but for being trafficked, that person may seek to expunge records related to convictions for: (1) a traffic or municipal ordinance violation; (2) a misdemeanor; (3) a non-violent felony; and (4) three specified felonies defined as violent: promoting prostitution in the first degree; domestic violence in the third degree; and producing obscene matter involving a person under the age of 17. See Ala. Code § 15-27-1(5) (misdemeanors and traffic or municipal ordinance violations); § 15-27-2(a)(6), (b) (felonies).
Common law sealing authority
Despite the near-complete absence of statutory expungement authority for adult criminal records, municipal courts in the recent past appear to have regularly exercised a common law expungement authority. See Kristin K. Hensen, Can You Make This Go Away: Alabama’s Inconsistent Approach to Expunging Criminal Records, 35 Cumb. L. Rev. 385 (2005); see also “All Expunged Cases Should be Made Public,” Mobile Register, July 13, 2005. Concerning the municipal courts, the Alabama Attorney General has stated in an informal opinion that “(t)here is nothing in the Constitution of Alabama 1901 or the Alabama Code granting municipal courts the power to expunge records.” 88-00410 Op. Ala. Att’y Gen. (1988). Persons seeking expungement have sometimes relied upon statutes authorizing individuals to bring a court challenge to “inaccurate or incomplete” records. Ala. Code § 41-9-645. A court may order a record “appropriately purged, modified or supplemented by an explanatory notation” if the record is found to be “inaccurate, incomplete or misleading.” § 41-9-646.
B. Non-conviction records
In 2014, courts in Alabama were authorized to expunge records of misdemeanors and non-violent felonies that did not result in conviction, including felony cases where charges were dismissed after successful completion of a drug court program, mental health court program, diversion program or veteran’s court program. See Ala. Code § 15-27-1 (misdemeanors); § 15-27-2 (felonies). Expungement may be sought 90 days after charges dismissed with prejudice, and after an additional waiting period after dismissal without prejudice (two years for misdemeanors, five years for felonies) “if the person has not been convicted of any other felony or misdemeanor crime, any violation, or any traffic violation, excluding minor traffic violations, during the [waiting period].” There is an administrative fee of $300 over and above the usual civil filing fee, which may be waived in the event of indigency. If the prosecutor or victim object, a hearing must be held at which the court will consider certain factors relating to the crime. § 15-27-5. Where there is no objection, “the court shall grant the petition if it is reasonably satisfied from the evidence that the petitioner has complied with and satisfied the requirements of this chapter.” Id. In addition, “[t]he court shall have discretion over the number of cases that may be expunged pursuant to this chapter after the first case is expunged.” Id. Finally, no expungement order may be issued unless and until the petition has paid all outstanding restitution or fines, “absent a finding of indigency.” § 15-27-12.
Expunged records “may not be used for any non-criminal justice purpose and may only be made available to criminal justice agencies upon acknowledgement of an investigation or other criminal matter involving the person related to the expungement.” § 15-27-7.
In 2017, Ala. Code § 15-27-2 was amended to permit expungement of any felony, including violent felonies, where the defendant was acquitted of the charges. See Act 2017-377, adding a new § 15-27-2(b). The provision in § 15-27-7 about disclosure to law enforcement agencies is made specifically applicable.
C. Effect of expungement
After the expungement of records pursuant to subsection (a), the proceedings regarding the charge shall be deemed never to have occurred. Except as provided in this chapter, the court and other agencies shall reply to any inquiry that no record exists on the matter. The petitioner whose record was expunged shall not have to disclose the fact of the record or any matter relating thereto on an application for employment, credit, or other type of application. However, the petitioner whose record was expunged shall have the duty to disclose the fact of the record and any matter relating thereto to any government regulatory or licensing agency, any utility and its agents and affiliates, or any bank or other financial institution. In these circumstances, the government regulatory or licensing agency, utility and its agents and affiliates, or the bank or other financial institution shall have the right to inspect the expunged records after filing notice with the court.
§ 15-27-6(b). Expungement does not restore firearms rights, § 15-27-15, or relieve sex offender registration, which is only available from a court. See § 15-20A-24.
See also Ala. Code § 41-9-625 (law enforcement agencies required to delete photographs, “fingerprints and other identifying information” from their files within 30 days of release from custody if the person is not charged or is cleared of the charges).4 Alabama’s non-conviction expungement statutes enacted in 2014, supra, authorize courts to expunge arrest records where a charge results in a non-conviction disposition. Ala. Code § 15-27-1 (misdemeanors); § 15-27-2 (felonies). However, these statutes do not address uncharged arrests, so it appears that people who are arrested and released without charges have no way to clear their arrests records.
D. Juvenile delinquency adjudications
May be sealed by the court two years after final discharge or court order not pertaining to custody or supervision, if the individual has not previously been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor involving sexual offenses, drugs, weapons, or violence, or threats of violence, and has no pending criminal proceedings. Ala. Code § 12-15-136(a). Any adjudication of delinquency or conviction of a felony or misdemeanor involving sexual offenses, drugs, weapons, or violence, or threats of violence, subsequent to sealing shall have the effect of nullifying the sealing order. § 12-15-136(e). Five years after the juvenile reaches the age of majority, s/he may petition the court to have the records destroyed. § 12-15-137(a).
IV. Criminal record in employment and licensing
An individual who is legally barred from obtaining a specific occupational license due to a conviction may apply to the court for an “Order for Limited Relief” to permit discretionary consideration on the merits. Otherwise, Alabama has no general law regulating consideration of criminal record in employment or occupational licensing, although a few licensing schemes impose a “direct relationship” standard. It has imposed no “ban-the-box” limits on employer inquiries at the application stage of employment, or otherwise restricted record-based employment discrimination.
Until 2019, Alabama had no general law regulating consideration of conviction in occupational licensure, though it applies a “direct relationship” standard in connection with certain licenses.5 Effective September 1, 2019, SB163 creates a process whereby a person who is otherwise disqualified by law from obtaining a particular occupational license may apply to the circuit court for an “Order of Limited Relief” to eliminate the mandatory nature of the disqualification and permit consideration on the merits. An individual who has been convicted in multiple judicial circuits in the state may file a petition in any county that imposed one of the convictions, and a $100 administrative filing fee applies in addition to other court costs, which cannot be waived. See §§ 3(b) and 8. A person convicted in federal court may file in the jurisdiction where they reside. § 4. Under § 5(a), a person convicted in another jurisdiction may apply if they have received a certificate of limited relief “or similar document or ruling from the convicting jurisdiction.” Under § 6, a person currently serving a prison sentence with more than six months remaining may not apply, nor may someone facing felony charges, or misdemeanor charges filed within the last year. Under § 7, the person must identify the disqualification from which they seek relief. The hearing process, including documents that must be produced and standards that must be met (inter alia, the nature of crime and its relationship to license sought), is described in detail in § 7 – and the court may order preparation of a “postsentence report” from the Board of Pardons and Paroles. The law is silent on the findings a court must make, and appeal under an “abuse of discretion” standard. If denied, the person must wait two years to reapply. Subsequent conviction of a felony automatically revokes a Certificate. Under Section 12(c),
An occupational licensing board may not automatically deny an application for a license or revoke an existing license because of a criminal conviction when a valid Order of Limited Relief has been issued for the otherwise disqualifying conviction or convictions in question; provided, however, an occupational licensing board may consider the conduct underlying a conviction upon which an Order of Limited Relief was granted and may deny, revoke, or suspend a license based on that underlying conduct.
The section does not apply to law enforcement employment or driver’s licenses.
- Prior to its 1996 amendment, the Alabama constitution disenfranchised persons convicted of specified offenses, all felonies punishable by a term of imprisonment, and all “crimes of moral turpitude.” Ala. Const. Art. VIII, § 182 (1996). Section 182’s extension of disenfranchisement to misdemeanor crimes of “moral turpitude,” interpreted at that time to include drug possession and DUI, was held unconstitutional in Hunter v. Underwood, 471 U.S. 222 (1985).
- Previously, there was no exhaustive list of disqualifying crimes, although the Supreme Court of Alabama from time to time identified felonies that were or were not disqualifying. According to a 2005 opinion of the Alabama Attorney General, assault, felony drug possession and felony DUI were not regarded as crimes of “moral turpitude.” See Ala. Op. Atty. Gen. No. 2005-092 (March 18, 2005), 2005 WL 1121853 (Ala. A.G.) This opinion was issued in response to a request from the Board of Pardons and Paroles for a list of disqualifying offenses, and cited a number of cases in which the Supreme Court of Alabama had held that murder, rape, burglary, robbery, income tax evasion, conspiracy to commit fraud, possession of marijuana for resale, theft, transporting stolen vehicles, unauthorized sale of a controlled substance, and bigamy were all crimes involving moral turpitude. On the other hand, assault, doing business without a license, violation of liquor laws, aiding prisoner to escape, possession of marijuana, and driving under the influence, were not. Notwithstanding this opinion, Alabama’s secretary of state continued to take the position that conviction of any felony prohibited voting, and so directed county registrars. On June 1, 2007, in response to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU challenging this interpretation and application of § 177, the Supreme Court of Alabama held that while state and local election officials had acted contrary to the state constitution and laws, no further injunctive relief was necessary. See Chapman v. Gooden, 974 So. 2d 972 (Ala. 2007)
- In August 2009 the mayor of Birmingham issued a blanket pardon to all those arrested there during civil rights protests of the 1960s. See http://blog.al.com/live/2009/08/birminghams_mayor_langford_iss.html
- The Alabama Supreme Court has interpreted the phrase “other identifying data” to mean “information that can be used to track down and identify persons in the manner that photographs and fingerprints are used. Examples include an individual’s blood type, height, weight, hair color, eye color, scars, physical deformities, etc.” Mobile Press Register, Inc. v. Lackey, 938 So. 2d 398, 402 (Ala. 2006); see also Henson, supra, “Can You Make This Go Away?” 35 Cumb. L. Rev. at 387 (“Informal conversations with officials at ACJIC [Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center] indicate that despite [§ 41-9-625], arrest records are not routinely expunged without a court order”).
- See, e.g., Ala. Code § 34-1A-5 (d)(2)(a) (“An applicant [for an alarm system installer license] shall not be refused a license solely because of a prior criminal conviction, unless the criminal conviction directly relates to the occupation or profession for which the license is sought.”); Ala. Code § 27-17A-18(f)(3) (“The applicant [for a pre-need sales agent for funeral services] must not have any felony or misdemeanor convictions that relate to any activity regulated by this chapter”).