The Presidential Pardon : While our history is full of fascinating stories behind a Presidents to grant a presidential pardon application, history rarely delves into the mechanics of how to apply for a presidential pardon. Here is some information to shed light on that important issue.

How to Apply for a Presidential Pardon - The Background

Among the clemency powers granted to the President of the United States, the power to grant a full pardon for a federal crime is probably the most prominent. The effect of a presidential pardon is to remove any civil disabilities, such as the right to vote, the right to hold public office, and the right to sit on a jury, as a result of a criminal conviction.

Pardons are typically granted after the recipient has served his or her sentence. However, there are the unusual cases where a presidential pardon application is granted prior to the recipient going to jail or even being formally charged with a crime. In those circumstances, the pardon eliminates any sentence imposed, or serves as a bar to prosecution. This can be seen in President Trump's recent pardon of Joe Arpaio.

While a pardon does not signify the recipient's innocence, it is traditionally viewed as an expression of the pardoning President's forgiveness for a criminal offense. In addition, a presidential pardon reflects an acknowledgment that the recipient has taken responsibility for his or her actions, and that the recipient is leading an honorable life. While the pardons that make headlines usually include those involving high-profile and often controversial political figures, any person convicted of a federal crime can seek a presidential pardon. So, if you believe that you are deserving of a presidential pardon and you have taken responsibility for your criminal offense, then you may benefit from the information that follows.

Rules to Apply for a Presidential Pardon

Before discussing the actual logistics of how to apply for a presidential pardon, it is important to understand a few rules that apply to the pardoning process.

- Presidential Pardons are for Federal Convictions Only

The President has the power to grant pardons to people who have been convicted of a federal crime. The President cannot pardon a state criminal offense. Thus, if you are seeking a pardon for a state crime, then you need to contact the Office of the Governor or other appropriate entity in the state where you reside or where the conviction took place.

- The Five-Year Waiting Period

Under the U.S. Department of Justice rules at 28 C.F.R. sec. 1.1, et seq., a person is not eligible for a presidential pardon until five years have passed since the date of the person's release from prison. If the person never served time in prison, the waiting period begins from the date of sentencing. The purpose of the waiting period is to give the petitioner a reasonable amount of time to show an ability to lead a responsible, productive, law-abiding life. Of course, there have been highly unusual circumstances whereby the President pardoned someone who had yet to be charged with a crime -- such as President Gerald Ford's pardon of President Richard Nixon -- but the five-year waiting period is the rule typically followed.

- Timing of the Pardon Process

The pardon process is a lengthy one. It involves a thorough investigation into the facts and surrounding circumstances of the offense and the petitioner's life.  Accordingly, it may take several years to finish. Note, however, that a pardon application will remain under consideration until the President takes final action on it. Therefore, if a petition is filed under one presidential administration but left undecided, there is no need to re-file another petition for the next administration. The petition remains under consideration in the new presidential administration. This keeps the door open for petitioners who are applying for a presidential pardon even after a new election.

- Reason for the Pardon Application

A petitioner must provide a reason why he or she is seeking a pardon. A claim that the petitioner is innocent will not normally carry much weight because, as noted above, a pardon does not establish innocence. Indeed, those evaluating a pardon petition are looking to see whether the petitioner has accepted responsibility, has shown remorse, and made amends for the criminal offense.

- Character References

The pardon petition must include at least three character affidavits, and those cannot be from relatives. The character references should help support your reasons for seeking the pardon, and the people writing them should have knowledge of the offense for which you are seeking the pardon.

- The Effect of a Presidential Pardon Application

A pardon restores various rights that may have been relinquished as part of the criminal conviction, and may to some extent remove the stigma of the conviction. However, a pardon does not erase the fact that there was a conviction. Your criminal record will continue to show the conviction, but also the pardon therefrom.

- Factors Considered in Evaluating a Pardon Petition

Officials from the U.S. Office of the Pardon Attorney, along with FBI investigators, conduct a very detailed inquiry into the petitioner's personal background and current activities. The factors considered during the investigation include: the nature and seriousness of the offense, the petitioner's criminal record, any hardship as a result of the conviction, and information about the petitioner's post-conviction involvement in community service, charity, or other worthwhile activities. Attaching specific information to the pardon application about the petitioner's post-conviction community, charitable, and worthwhile activities, will only help the application's chances in the eyes of the reviewing officials. This is a very important element in understanding how to apply for a presidential pardon.

- No False Statements

A petitioner's failure to provide full and accurate information on the application may be a reason to deny the petition. Moreover, willfully submitting a false statement in the pardon application could lead to further criminal punishment.

- No Hearing for Pardon Decisions

There are no hearings held on a petitioner's application for a pardon. Further, the reasons why a President granted or denied a petition are not normally disclosed when a final action is taken. There is no appeal from a denial of a pardon petition. However, a person may submit a new petition two years after the date of denial.

How to Apply for a Presidential Pardon Application - The Logistics

All pardon petitions (except for those related to military offenses) should be sent to the Office of the Pardon Attorney, at the U.S. Department of Justice, 145 N Street N.E., Room 5E.508, Washington, D.C. 20530. The links below will provide you with the actual address of where to send the petition.

The pardon application must be legible, completed fully and accurately, and notarized before it will be considered. A petitioner is free to attach any additional documentation to the application as necessary.

While one is free to have the assistance of an attorney to complete the pardon application, an attorney is not necessary. In fact, you can find an online version of the pardon application itself on our website at


Hopefully, this article helps you better understand how to apply for a presidential pardon. A presidential pardon serves as one check on the judicial branch of government by the executive branch. It is also a constitutional power that is based on the notion of mercy. Seeking a presidential pardon is a worthy goal for those who believe that they have atoned for their past transgressions. It is the constitutional embodiment of the idea that we can all change for the better.

About Brandon Sample

Brandon Sample is an attorney, author, and criminal justice reform activist. Brandon’s law practice is focused on federal criminal defense, federal appeals, federal post-conviction relief, federal civil rights litigation, federal administrative law, and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

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1 Comment

  1. Jimmy Nance on November 6, 2018 at 1:01 am

    Thank you. Much needed info as I am trying to get my Dad’s sentence commuted or a pardon; we have suffered 28 years on a wrongful conviction.

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