Who Exactly Can the U.S. President Pardon?

Who Exactly Can the U.S. President Pardon

The President of the United States has an important role in U.S. politics. But more than that, he also has the unique ability to pardon people for crimes they have committed in the U.S. But who exactly can the U.S. President pardon?

Does he have the ability to pardon any and all criminals? To what point can he exercise this power? Can anyone else override his power to pardon? We looked into both U.S. federal and state law to answer these questions. Read on to find out about the President’s power to pardon. You’ll also find the names of some interesting people that have been pardoned by the U.S. President at different times in history.

Federal Law: Who Exactly Can the U.S. President Pardon?

Under federal law, the power to pardon for federal crimes is given to the President of the United States under Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Constitution states that the President has the power to “grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment”. The president can also grant conditional pardons, shorten prison sentences, forfeit fines, delay the imposition of a sentence, and grant amnesty to criminals. Anyone who petitions for a pardon must wait five years after conviction before receiving a pardon. Pardons can also be granted without the filing of a formal request. A Presidential pardon does not erase the record of the conviction.

State Law: Who Exactly Can the U.S. President Pardon?

Under state law, the U.S. cannot grant pardons. The pardon power only extends to offenses that are recognized under federal law. However, the governors of almost all U.S. states have the power to grant pardons under state criminal law. There are nine states where governors can’t grant pardons. In those states, which include Alabama, Connecticut and Utah, there are Boards of Pardons and Paroles, which can grant pardons to convicted criminals.

Controversial Pardons

There have been many controversial pardons in the U.S. Many people who are against the presidential pardon argue that pardons are often used for political reasons, rather than to correct errors in the law. One of the most famous pardons was given by President Gerard Ford to the former President Richard Nixon in 1974. The pardon was given for his misconduct in the Watergate scandal. More recently, President George W. Bush’s commutation of Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s prison term was very controversial. Libby leaked classified CIA information, including the identity of the CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson.


Although it has been used for political pardons mostly, the idea behind the presidential pardon is very noble. Alexander Hamilton, a founding father of the U.S., and chief staff aide to George Washington, was a strong supporter of the power to pardon. Although the U.S. President can pardon anyone who commits a federal crime, it’s up to them to use this power wisely. As Benjamin Parker once said in Spider-Man, “With great power, comes great responsibility”.

Every year, the presidential pardon is used symbolically on Thanksgiving, which is celebrated nationally on the fourth Thursday in November. During the National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation, which takes place at the White House shortly before Thanksgiving, the president of the United States is presented with a live domestic turkey. Often the National Turkey Federation and the Poultry and Egg National Board are also present. The president traditionally pardons the turkey from being slaughtered for thanksgiving dinner. The pardoned turkey is then sent off to a farm, where is it said that it lives the rest of its life, free from the worries of being eaten!