Under the Constitution, the President has the authority to grant pardon for federal offenses, including those obtained in the United States District Courts, the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, and military courts-martial.  Pardon is the action of the executive to mitigate or set aside the punishment for a crime. 

By pardoning an offender, the individual is fully forgiven of all the legal consequences of the crime and its conviction.

Pardon can be full or conditional.  When an unconditional pardon is granted it fully restores an individual’s civil rights forfeited upon conviction of a crime.  A full pardon absolves one from all legal consequences of the crime.  However, the convictions cannot be removed.  The offender’s right to vote, serve on a jury, or hold political office is restored.  A pardon does not restore an offender to property or interests which have vested in others in consequence of the conviction and judgment.  A person with a conditional pardon remains subject to conditions of release.  A conditional pardon does not restore civil rights or rights of citizenship, and the executive can revoke the pardon if a person does not comply with the conditions of release.

Unlike a commutation, which shortens or eliminates an individual’s punishment, a pardon absolves the individual of guilt. For example, President Trump commuted Roger Stone’s prison sentence so that Mr. Stone did not serve the punishment for his guilty conduct. On the other hand, President John F. Kennedy pardoned all first-time offenders convicted of crimes under the Narcotics Control Act of 1956 to signal to Congress that the law needed to be changed.

Generally, pardons are granted to a single offender.  However, there is no limitation to that rule.  Amnesty is the pardon of individuals or categories of people for the violation of the law.  If a person is a joint offender in a felony and a pardon is granted to one person then a pardon can be granted to all the joint offenders.

The constitutional power of the executive to grant pardons is beyond the control of the judiciary.  No court has the power to review grounds or motives for the action of the executive in granting a pardon.  The constitutional power of the President to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the U.S. is an unreviewable power.

Five-Year Waiting Period.

Under the Department of Justice’s rules governing petitions for executive clemency, there is a minimum waiting period of five years after completion of the sentence before anyone convicted of a federal offense becomes eligible to apply for a presidential pardon. The waiting period begins on the date of the petitioner’s release from confinement. Alternatively, if the conviction resulted in probation or a fine, but no term of imprisonment, the waiting period begins on the date of sentencing.

A waiver of any portion of the waiting period is rarely granted and then only in the most exceptional circumstances. In order to request a waiver, you must complete the pardon application form and submit it with a letter explaining why you believe the waiting period should be waived in your case.

Who Can Apply for a Pardon?

No petition for pardon should be filed until the expiration of a waiting period of at least five years subsequent to the date of the release of the petitioner from confinement or, in case no prison sentence was imposed, until the expiration of a period of at least five years subsequent to the date of the conviction of the petitioner.

In some cases, such as those involving violent crimes, violation of narcotics laws, gun control laws, income tax laws, perjury, violation of public trust involving substantial sums of money, violations involving organized crime, or other crimes of a serious nature, no petition should be filed until the expiration of a waiting period of seven years.

The waiting period may be waived in cases of aliens seeking a pardon to avert deportation.

Generally, no petition should be submitted by a person who is on probation or parole.

Offenses against the laws of possessions or territories of the United States.

Applications for pardons shall relate only to violations of laws of the United States. Applications relating to violations of laws of the possessions of the United States or territories subject to the jurisdiction thereof should be submitted to the appropriate official or agency of the possession or territory concerned.

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