To understand the concept of legal pardons, in the United States, or anywhere, one must first understand the definition of pardon. According to Wiki, a legal pardon is “the forgiveness of a crime and the penalty associated with it”. However, such pardons can only be granted by the head of State, or at times, a competent church authority.
Of course, while “commutation”, is a related term, when it comes to commutation, penalties may be reduced though there is no forgiveness of the crime. Whereas, Clemency is an associated term which includes all of the above, a pardon, a commutation, and forgiveness. As such, when one receives a commutation either off part or all of a sentence, one may released, but can never have the crime removed from record.
Although, while pardons basically mean the same thing to all criminals in all countries, different countries have different rules pertaining to such pardons. As such, this particular article looks at how such are handled in the United States. For, while one of the freest and richest countries in the World, pardons are often harder to come by than anywhere else in the World.
So, why are pardons granted? Pardons are granted in a variety of countries when individuals have fulfilled their debt to society, or deserve a pardon for other reasons according to heads of State or prison officials. Of course, pardons are also offered in some instances where individuals have claimed and proved that they were wrongfully convicted. However, the latter has become more frequent in the United States since the discovery of DNA evidence.
As to Clemency, such is often requested by foreign governments which do not believe in Capital punishment when of their citizens has been sentenced to death by a foreign nation. As such, Clemency is often one of the most complicated aspects of legal pardons. Still, if a country can prove it is in the best interest of the country and individual, often such Clemency can be granted when and where both countries agree on same.
A good example of such a pardon is that of Leonard Peltier, who has requested a pardon, year after year, president after president to no avail. Or, that of Nixon who was pardoned after committing severe political crimes while in the White House. So, while legal pardons are available, just as issues with the justice system, such pardons are not always just.
Perhaps this is why in the United States, power to pardon an individual convicted of a Felony is granted only to the President under the Constitution. Although, the Supreme Court has now interpreted such language to include conditional pardons, commutations, conditional commutations, remissions of fees and other amnesties, respites and forfeitures. Still, with such power limited to one individual, fewer and fewer individuals have been pardoned over time.
As such, all request for Federal pardons are addressed to the President who can either deny or grant such request. Of course, the percentage of pardons during a presidency varies with each change in administration. However, fewer pardons have been granted since World War II than before. As such, while such power to pardon has been controversial at best from the onset, Alexander Hamilton became successful in defending such powers with the first pardon being granted to the Whiskey Rebellion.
Although the U. S. Justice Department recommends that those requesting a pardon must wait five years after conviction, or prior to release to receive such a pardon, this is not always the case now when it comes to wrongful convictions. However, when it comes to presidential pardons, one can be granted at any any time though most pardons are seen as an admission of guilt unless otherwise defined through legal preceding.
To this end, individuals convicted of crimes who receive legal pardons must still report such crimes on job applications and can have no Civil Rights reinstated under Federal law. However, as such measures are often imposed and upheld by State laws, the State in which the individual resides has the right to remove such limitations where appropriate. So, as the federal pardon process can take a great deal longer than working with the State, individuals may wish to discuss restoring their Civil Rights with a State Representative rather than going through such Federal channels upon having received such a pardon.