How Do Presidential Pardons Work, Anyway?
When America’s founders were designing our government, they liked the idea that the government had the power to forgive people for their wrongdoings. The idea started in England with the kings and queens given the power to hand out pardons to people. In the United States, it was the president who would be given this power.
These days it is the policy of the United States that a President of the United States decides to forgive someone for a crime they committed which is called a pardon. If you are a listener of Rich Zeoli, then you have likely been hearing a lot about pardons since there is some controversy regarding the Department of Justice retrying a man who had been pardoned by President Trump.
The US Constitution states, in Article II, Section 2, the power of the president to grant pardons is clearly stated. But, the president can’t just pardon anyone for anything. There are some rules. For example, the president can’t pardon someone if they have been impeached by Congress.
But, for most federal crimes, the president has the freedom to decide if someone should be forgiven. This power is important because it gives the president a way to correct or change decisions made by the courts, especially if they feel someone was treated unfairly.
There aren’t a lot of guidelines in the Constitution as to how, why, and when a person should be pardoned. This gives the President a lot of leeway in handing out pardons. It should come as no surprise then, that there can be a lot of controversy over pardons.
Types of pardons
There are a few different ways the president can use the power of pardons. First, there’s the full pardon. This means the president completely forgives someone for their crime. In this case, once the pardon is effected, there is no possibility of being retried for the original crime.
Then, there’s the conditional pardon. In this case, the president says, “I’ll forgive you, but there are certain rules you need to follow.” For example, the person might have to do some community service or meet other requirements.
Another type is the commutation. This doesn’t wipe away the crime, but it can make the punishment lighter. So, if someone was in jail for ten years, the president might decide the person only has to stay for five.
How the process works
If somebody or their representative believes they should be pardoned they can send a request to the Office of the Pardon Attorney. This office then looks at the request, studies the details of the case, and thinks about whether a pardon might be a good idea.
The president then takes a look at what the Office of the Pardon Attorney has said. With this advice in mind, the president makes the final decision. Sometimes they agree with the office’s suggestion, and sometimes they don’t.
It’s a team effort, with the final say in the hands of the president. This process makes sure that every request for a pardon is looked at carefully and thoughtfully.