Federal pardons in the United States

Barack Obama meeting with prisoners El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in 2015

A federal pardon in the United States is the action of the President of the United States that completely sets aside or commutes (lessens) the punishment for a federal crime. The authority to take such action is granted to the president by Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution. Under the Constitution, the president's clemency power extends only to federal criminal offenses.[1] All requests for executive clemency for federal offenses are directed to the Office of the Pardon Attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice for investigation and review. The beneficiary of a pardon needs to accept the pardon and acknowledge that the crime did take place.[2]

A president cannot pardon someone for state or local crimes.[3] Experts disagree as to whether a president can pardon himself,[4] but pardons cannot apply to cases of impeachment. The pardon can also be used for a presumptive case, such as when President Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon over any possible crimes regarding the Watergate scandal.[4]

Constitutional provision

The pardon powers of the President are based on Article Two of the United States Constitution (Section 2, Clause 1), which provides:

The President ... shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of impeachment.

The U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted this language to include the power to grant pardons, conditional pardons, commutations of sentence, conditional commutations of sentence, remissions of fines and forfeitures, respites, and amnesties.[5]