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, which states, "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.[1] 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.[2]

A president cannot pardon someone for state or local crimes.[3] Experts disagree as to whether a president can pardon himself.[2]

Early history

Alexander Hamilton defended the pardon power in The Federalist Papers, particularly in Federalist No. 74.

Pardons granted by presidents from George Washington until Grover Cleveland's first term (1885–1889) were hand written by the president; thereafter, pardons were prepared for the president by administrative staff requiring only that the president sign them.[4]