WHAT IT IS
To pardon means "to officially say that someone who is guilty of a crime will be allowed to go free and will not be punished." [Merriam-Webster]
A presidential pardon enables the U.S. president to eliminate a person’s prison sentence, fines, or probation conditions. It gives a sitting president the power to completely forgive a crime. [USA Today]
A pardon can be referred to as "executive clemency." [Department of Justice]
The right of executive clemency comes from Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution.
Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution
"and he shall have the Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment." [National Constitution Center]
Executive clemency allows the president to pardon and issue commutation (reducing a prison sentence). [Department of Justice]
The ability to grant a pardon is only applicable to federal cases and crimes. Pardons aren’t applicable to lawsuits. [FiveThirtyEight]
Five years after the completion of a jail sentence, a prisoner can apply for a pardon. [Department of Justice]
WHY IT MATTERS
CIVICS: The right to pardon provides the president with another broad power of executive decision-making and can be considered one of the most powerful presidential powers. [NPR], [The Chicago Tribune]
President Trump's 2018 comments on self-pardoning sparked constitutional debate - can presidents pardon themselves? It's more complicated than you think. [TIME]
Pardon cases are often reviewed by the pardon office, prosecutors, and the Attorney General.
The president often reviews the opinions of these top officials before making a decision.[PBS News Hour]
Not for impeachment
The Constitution provides no explicit restrictions on who can be pardoned, except in the instance of impeachment.
The president, if impeached, cannot pardon him or herself. [TIME]
Come one, come all
A president has the ability to pardon someone who hasn’t yet been convicted of a crime. [USA Today]
Accepting a presidential pardon doesn’t necessarily mean someone is guilty or not of committing a crime. [The Washington Post]
The sitting president pardons turkeys in an annual Thanksgiving tradition. [Politico]
The person the president wishes to pardon can reject the president's pardon. [Politico]
If a pardon is granted to someone, that person can then vote, run for office, own guns, and sit on juries. [Vox]
These rights and privileges are not given back to those given commutation. [Department of Justice]
WHERE WE ARE NOW
June 2018: President Trump tweeted that he had the right to pardon himself. [The Washington Post]
President Trump's comments on self-pardoning sparked constitutional debate - can presidents pardon themselves? It's more complicated than you think. [TIME]
See a list of pardons by President Trump from 2016-2019, published by the Department of Justice.
Here is a list of President Trump's 2020 pardons.
July 11, 2020: President Trump commutes friend, Roger Stone's sentence. Democrats in Congress said the move further undermines the rule of law. [Associated Press]
Aug. 2020: On the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, President Trump announced a pardon for Susan B. Anthony. [Reuters]
THINGS TO THINK ABOUT
What is the difference between pardon and commutation? Learn more with the Department of Justice.
According to an AP-NORC poll, 85% of Americans believe it is "unacceptable" for the president to pardon himself.
Here are several expert opinions on the scope of a president’s power to pardon. [Vox]
Take a look at how common presidential pardons have been in the past. [Newsweek]
Read founding father Alexandar Hamilton's reasoning for pardons, as written in Federalist No. 74.