Presidential Pardon Application Overview
The Presidential Federal Pardon Application process can seem confusing and difficult to understand. This simple guide works to address the mystery surrounding how to apply for a federal presidential pardon.
So often when we think of presidential pardons, we recall controversial moments in national politics: President Trump’s pardon of racial profiler Sheriff Joe Arpaio; President Bill Clinton’s pardon of his friend and fundraiser Marc Rich; President George H.W. Bush’s pardon of his close colleague Caspar Weinberger; and, of course President Gerald Ford’s pardon of his predecessor Richard Nixon.
However, in most cases presidential pardons do not involve captivating stories of political intrigue or the appearance of unfair favors for friends. Rather, the administration of presidential pardons is a more routine affair. Individuals convicted of federal crimes complete a presidential pardon application, and federal officials review the application. Ultimately, the application lands on the president’s desk for a decision.This is a basic overview of how you can apply for a presidential pardon.
Because the vast majority of presidential pardon recipients do not merit a front-page headline in the New York Times, it is important to understand the basic mechanics on how to apply for presidential pardon application – literally, the “who, what, when, where, and why” of a presidential pardon application. Looking at the presidential pardon process this way easily shows how the use of presidential forgiveness works in practice.
WHO CAN APPLY FOR A PRESIDENTIAL PARDON?
- The president's ability to grant federal pardons has been a part of our country since the beginning and is set out in the United States Constitution:
- "The President . . . shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States." Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 of the United States Constitution.
- Since the power to grant a presidential pardon comes from the U.S. Constitution, a presidential pardon can only be granted for federal convictions. Put differently, the President of the United States only has the ability to provide presidential pardons to people who were convicted in federal court for federal crimes. The presidential pardon power does not apply to convictions for state crimes.
- Obtaining a pardon for states crimes varies from state to state. But generally speaking, people who want to get a pardon after they have been convicted of state crimes must apply to the governor of the state where they were convicted. The material below applies only to presidential pardons.
- The following question might shed some light in regards to how to apply for a presidential pardon in federal convicted crimes.
WHAT IS A PRESIDENTIAL PARDON APPLICATION?
- To start off, a formal presidential pardon application isn't actually called by that name. Instead, the actual application form for a pardon from the U.S. President is called the “Petition for Pardon After Completion of Sentence.” We will simply refer to this as the Application, and remember: this information is specific only to asking for a presidential pardon.
- The Application first asks for basic identification and biographical information. Items such as where do you live, where were you born, if you are married, and similar questions. The Application next asks for information about the following:
- Your criminal offense (your specific conviction) for which the pardon is sought;
- Your entire criminal history;
- Your residence and employment history;
- Your substance abuse and mental health background (if any);
- Your general financial information;
- Any military record or service;
- Civil rights and occupational licensing (think nursing license, therapist, doctor, lawyer, etc.); and
- Your charitable and community activities.
- The Application also asks you to explain the reasons why you are seeking a presidential pardon. The short answer is usually that you want to get your life back. The long answer, which you actually write in the Application, may be that you have truly turned your life around since you were convicted and that forgiveness is appropriate in your case. Explaining in detail the reasons why you should receive a presidential pardon is the most important part of the Application and should not be overlooked or rushed.
- The Application also asks you to provide a number of character references. This means that you need to list a number of people who are willing to vouch for what a good member of society you have been since your release. The people that provide character references should have known you for a significant amount of time, and it always helps if someone can describe how you have changed since the time before your conviction through today.
WHEN SHOULD I SUBMIT A PRESIDENTIAL PARDON APPLICATION?
- Presidential pardons, also called "executive clemency," are governed by Department of Justice rules. These rules do not restrict the power of the President to grant pardons, but are generally followed in most cases where someone has submitted a presidential pardon application.
- The rules governing presidential pardons (executive clemency) require that you must wait at least five years after you were released from confinement before submitting a presidential pardon application. If you were convicted of a crime but not required to serve any time in prison, the five-year waiting period begins to run on the date you were sentenced.In order to apply for a presidential pardon you need to meet the eligibility criteria or your federal pardon application may be denied.
- The purpose of the waiting period, according to the Department of Justice, is to give a reasonable period of time to demonstrate an ability to lead a responsible, productive, and law-abiding life.
- This five-year waiting period for ordinary people seeking a pardon is often very different in practice from the most famous instances of presidents granting pardons to their close friends, donors, or even predecessors (like Richard Nixon) well before the five year waiting period was up.
- What this shows is the basic fact that a president has the power to grant a pardon to anyone at any time. The president can grant a pardon to anyone before they are charged with a crime, after they are indicted, during a criminal trial, before they are sentenced, while they are in jail, or after they are released.
- As a practical matter, however, if you want to apply for a presidential pardon through the Office of the Pardon Attorney you must wait five years until after the day you were released before submitting an application. Any application submitted before the waiting period has expired typically will not be considered.
WHERE DO I APPLY FOR A PRESIDENTIAL PARDON?
- The President has the sole authority to grant or deny an application for a presidential pardon. Like every other presidential power, the President has delegated the day-to-day ins-and-outs of evaluating presidential pardon applications to a specific executive office. In this case, the specific office involved is the Office of the Pardon Attorney.
- The Office of the Pardon Attorney is a part of the U.S. Department of Justice. For over 125 years, the Office of the Pardon Attorney has assisted the President in the exercise of his executive clemency power and the granting of pardons. If you want to request a presidential pardon you must submit your application to the Office of the Pardon Attorney.
- Whenever the Office of the Pardon Attorney receives a presidential pardon application, the Office reviews, investigates, and prepares a recommendation about the application. The recommendation from the Office of the Pardon Attorney is not binding on the President, but the President is extremely unlikely to grant a presidential pardon application that is not supported by this office.
- Essentially, the Office of the Pardon Attorney is the gate-keeper who decides if your presidential pardon application will ever make it to the President's desk for signature.
WHY ASK FOR PRESIDENTIAL PARDON?
- A presidential pardon is an official sign of forgiveness, and relieves individuals of disabilities resulting from a conviction. People asking for a pardon usually make a request because they have accepted responsibility for their crime, expressed remorse, and established a record of good conduct since being released from their sentence. People who successfully apply for a pardon are often people who truly demonstrate a change in their lives and who positively contribute to their community.
- Another reason a person may seek a pardon is to gain back some civil rights taken away as a result of a federal conviction. The right to vote and the right to hold public office are two such rights that could be restored if a presidential pardon is granted. A presidential pardon may also restore your ability to exercise your Second Amendment rights by owning guns, firearms or ammunition. There are other federal benefits which may be restored as well if your presidential pardon application is granted.
CAUTION: 2 YEAR WAIT AFTER PARDON APPLICATION DENIED
The presidential pardon application itself is relatively simple and easy to understand. It is impossible to guarantee that anyone in particular will obtain a pardon through a presidential pardon application. The President has complete discretion to grant or deny any presidential pardon application. As mentioned earlier, the Department of Justice has rules (that are not completely binding, but usually followed) which establish when and how a presidential pardon application may be submitted.
- According to those rules, if you submit a presidential pardon application to the Office of the Pardon Attorney and that application is denied you must wait another two years before submitting a new application for a pardon.
- Presenting the most persuasive, complete, and compelling presidential pardon application in your specific case is vital to making sure you have the best chance at receiving a presidential pardon. Incomplete or unprofessional pardon applications are extremely unlikely to result in a presidential pardon.
- More importantly, submitting any presidential pardon application that does not put your absolute best foot forward will probably be denied; meaning you will be forced to wait another two years before you can request a pardon again.
Is it Hard to Get Presidential Pardons ?
- Whether a pardon will be granted, of course, depends upon the priorities of the particular U.S. President at the time you apply. But, President Obama’s recent Clemency Initiative resulted in granting clemency to 1,715 people.
- This program and the continuing work of the Office of the Pardon Attorney gives us hope that clemency is still available for people who have learned from past mistakes and changed their lives for the better.
- The number of federal pardon application has been increasing year by year. Pardon are not impossible but you should know how to apply for a presidential pardon and a clemency attorney
Applying for Clemency While Waiting for Case to be Resolved
If you are an inmate who is currently in litigation, challenging your conviction, then you cannot generally apply for a presidential pardon. There are several well-established principles that preclude the Office of Pardon Attorney from processing a clemency application while litigation related to a case is pending. However, should the case be resolved in a way that is adverse to you, and no other litigation will follow, then you may submit a new petition to the Pardon Attorney’s Office.
Can you obtain a Federal pardon before being indicted, convicted, or sentenced for a federal offense?
- To answer the question of whether you can obtain a presidential pardon before you are sentenced, convicted, or even indicted for a crime, the answer is – not usually. It has occurred, but it is highly unusual.
- Of course, President Gerald Ford pardoned President Nixon before he was indicted for any crime, President Jimmy Carter pardoned those who dodged the draft during the Vietnam War before anyone was indicted for a crime, and President George H.W. Bush pardoned Caspar Weinberger before his was indicted.
- Yet, those case are infrequent an occur in highly political circumstances, such as the recent pardon by President Trump of Joseph Arpaio who was pardoned prior to his sentencing for criminal contempt.
Can you get Access to an FBI Criminal Case History from the Pardon Attorney?
As noted above, your petition for a pardon must include information about your criminal history, if any. If you do not have certain details about your criminal case history, then you may be inclined to get your history from the Pardon Attorney. Unfortunately, the Pardon Attorney cannot provide your criminal case history to you. However, you are able to get a copy of your criminal history directly from the FBI.
Do you need to provide Additional Information to the Pardon Attorney after filing an application?
- Officials with the Office of the Pardon Attorney do a very thorough review of any petition for a presidential pardon. That is because the Office wants to ensure that the person seeking clemency is truly worthy of the extraordinary relief of a pardon.
- In that effort, it is fairly common for the Office of the Pardon Attorney to ask the petitioner for additional, or more detailed, information about his or her personal life, criminal background, and current activities. Thus, you should be prepared to provide detailed information to the Office of the Pardon Attorney as part of your petition after you have filed for the pardon.
- If you decide not to respond to a request for additional information that could put your petition in jeopardy. The Pardon Attorney can ask for information that would help it in analyzing your request for a pardon.
- Thus, if you fail or refuse to respond to requests, it is possible that the Pardon Attorney may administrative close your petition without a final decision being made on the petition.
Can the president pardon those convicted of State Crimes?
- The President of the United States does not have the power to grant pardons and other forms of clemency to those who have committed state crimes. The president’s power is limited to those involved in federal crimes.
- As noted earlier, “The President . . . shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States” under Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 of the United States Constitution.
- An offense that violates state criminal law is not an offense against the United States, but an offense against the relevant state where the crime was committed.
- In order to get a pardon following involvement in a state crime is to petition the Governor or other state authority that handles pardons in the state in which the crime was committed.
What is The Difference Between a Pardon and Commutation?
One thing that is important to note as we discuss all aspects of presidential pardons is to understand the difference between two forms of clemency: pardon and commutation.
- A pardon is, as noted earlier, an expression of forgiveness from the president. It is granted when a petitioner demonstrates an acceptance of responsibility for his or her crimes, and has shown good conduct for a significant period of time after completion of a criminal sentence.
- It is important to remember that a pardon is not an assertion of a person’s innocence. Rather, it is a way in which to forgive, or show mercy, and to restore certain civil rights that you may have lost by virtue of a criminal conviction or sentence.
- Those civil rights could include lifting restrictions on the right to vote, hold elected office, and sit on a jury.
- In addition, a pardon removes the stigma that comes from a criminal conviction.
- Finally, a pardon can help with obtaining employment, licenses, or bonding, and can eliminate any basis for removal or deportation under U.S. immigration law.
- Commutation on the other hand is a reduction in sentence – either partially or completely – that is being served at the time of the petition.
- A commutation does not remove the conviction, suggest innocence, or remove any civil disabilities as a result of a conviction.
- A commutation also does not change a person’s immigration status, and thus will not prevent removal or deportation.
- Remission, which is a release of any financial obligations imposed as part of a criminal sentence, can also be a part of a commutation.
- There are a number of requirements to be eligible for a commutation, including that you (i) have begun serving your prison sentence, and (ii) are not challenging your conviction in the courts.
Can a pardon restore the Right to Possess a Gun?
- If you have been convicted of a federal felony, it is possible that you have lost the right to possess a gun.
- At this time, the only way to regain the right to legally possess a gun following such a federal firearm disability is through a presidential pardon.
- There is actually a statute, 18 U.S.C. § 925(c), that allows the Attorney General to remove a firearm disability in certain circumstances. However, Congress has prohibited the Attorney General to exercise that function.
- Therefore, a presidential pardon is the only way a person convicted of a federal felony may obtain relief from a firearm disability.
Is a letter of recommendation from a public official necessary to a presidential pardon application?
- A letter of recommendation from a public official is not required to be included in a presidential pardon application.
- The pardon power is the exclusive province of the Office of the President under the Constitution. Thus, recommendations from public officials is not binding on the president.
- Of course, applicants are free to ask anyone they wish to provide a recommendation letter, and those letters will be considered in the entire pardon process.
- That being said, letters from public or elected officials does not carry any special significance when a pardon application is reviewed by the Office of the Pardon Attorney.
Why does the pardon application need to be notarized?
- Honesty is vital in the presidential pardon process. Accordingly, the requirement that a federal pardon application must be signed under oath before a notary is meant to make clear that honesty is paramount in the application process.
- In addition, the requirement that the application include three notarized character affidavits is also part of the goal of complete candor with the Office of the Pardon Attorney.
- As noted previously, the Pardon Attorney engages in an in depth, careful review of a pardon application.
- The notarized character affidavits, and the amount of detail requested in the application itself allows for that careful review. Indeed, the entire application process rides on the honesty of the applicant.
- Therefore, the Pardon Attorney includes a number of safeguards to ensure that the investigation is based on truthful information. Otherwise, the process is moot, and any indication that there are falsehoods in the application will result in a negative outcome for the applicant.
What are those reviewing a pardon application looking for when deciding on a recommendation to the President?
Of course, everything that is part of the pardon application is relevant and important. That said, it is fair to say that when the Pardon Attorney reviews an application, the evaluation is very focused on the following aspects of the applicant’s life:
- The applicant’s post-conviction conduct;
- The applicant’s character;
- The applicant’s reputation;
- The seriousness of the offense;
- How recent the offense was;
- The applicant’s acceptance of responsibility;
- The applicant’s expression of remorse and atonement; and
- The applicant’s need for relief.
In addition, the Pardon Attorney may find persuasive value in official recommendations from knowledgeable officials who were involved in your case. That includes the United States Attorney for the district in which the conviction occurred and the sentencing judge. Because those individuals are so intimately involved in the case, their perspectives hold great weight. Finally, as noted earlier, the overall candor in the application is very important to the evaluation of the pardon request overall. Besides this ,all the federal pardon application related supporting documents should be verifiable and legitimate.
How Long Does it Take for a Decision on a Pardon Application?
- Anyone who applies for a presidential pardon, or any form of clemency, must realize that the process is lengthy. The long wait time is because there is not only an investigation to be conducted, but a recommendation goes through several levels before it actually reaches the President’s desk.
- Specifically, the investigation by the Office of the Pardon Attorney is detailed and careful. That might mean that that the Pardon Attorney has to obtain information or documentation from other governmental agencies. The Pardon Attorney might also request additional information from the applicant. All of the data collection takes time.
- After all of the relevant information is collected, the Pardon Attorney then must prepare a recommendation, which could also take a little time. The completed recommendation then goes from the Pardon Attorney to the Deputy Attorney General, who also must review the recommendation. The Deputy Attorney General then makes a final determination on behalf of the Justice Department, and sends a recommendation to the White House.
- Once at the White House, the recommendation might have a few more eyes on it before it reaches the President’s desk. The President then has the discretion to decide on each case at time when he or she believes is most appropriate.
- The long-standing policy of the Pardon Attorney is to not give applicants, or third parties, information about where the application is in the process. That can be frustrating, but at the same time it avoids any misunderstandings or the creation of false hope.
- Once a decision is made by the President. The decision is communicated to the applicant in writing, to his or her last known address. That is why it is very important to keep the Office of the Pardon Attorney apprised of any address changes during the pendency of the application.
What happens if a new President takes office while an application is pending?
- If the President fails to decide on a pardon application before he or she leaves office, you do not need to submit another application for the new President. Rather, the case remains open for the next President to resolve.
- The Department of Justice and the President to make an effort to decide on all pardon petitions as quickly as possible, there is no guarantee that an application submitted during one particular administration will be decided by that President.
Is a Pardon also an Expungement of the Offense?
- A presidential pardon is not the same as an expungement, and a criminal conviction is not expunged by virtue of a presidential pardon. It should be noted that a pardon and expungement are very different things.
- An expungement – removing the existence of a conviction from a criminal record – is a form of judicial relief that cannot be granted by executive branch officials like those in the Department of Justice or the President. An expungement is accomplished by following the requirements set forth by the court in which the conviction took place. It is a remedy that is granted infrequently.
- To give you a sense of how a pardon works in practical terms, a person who receives a pardon will have both the conviction and the pardon on their criminal history. Thus, law enforcement agencies will know that a person was convicted but also that he or she received a pardon for that conviction.
- Even though a pardon does not remove the fact of a conviction, a pardon does allow for the removal of a number of legal disabilities. Further, even though the conviction does not go away the fact that a person is pardoned will substantially remove the stigma associated with a criminal conviction.
- Of course, if you wish to expunge a state conviction, then you would need to go to the state court where the conviction occurred.
Is there a policy regarding posthumous pardons?
- As a threshold matter, the President under the U.S. Constitution has the power to grant pardons, even posthumously. He or she may do so at his or her discretion. That being said, the policy of the Department of Justice, and specifically for the Office of the Pardon Attorney, is to not process posthumous pardon applications.
- There are two main reasons for that policy. First, Department of Justice officials have determined that the resources needed for the pardon process are much better spent on people who can realistically benefit from the pardon – living persons. That is not to say that a posthumous pardon does not provide solace to family members of a deceased person who may be deserving of a pardon. But, those who truly can benefit from a pardon are given first consideration.
- Second, presidential pardon applications are coming to the Office of the Pardon Attorney in record numbers. Accordingly, it is sound policy to focus the limited resources of the Pardon Attorney on applications that can benefit living people.
- You can find more information about presidential pardon applications and executive clemency in general throughout our website.
- If you or a loved one is looking for help with a presidential pardon application, please contact Brandon Sample, Esq. by calling 802-444-HELP (4357) for a free consultation, or submit an online request for a free consultation.