What are the officially accepted methods for a President to grant Pardons?


The President of the United States is granted various powers by the Constitution, one being the power to hand out pardons. This authority comes from Article II, Section 2 which states that Presidents can grant “Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States” except in impeachment cases.

Pardons granted by the President can absolve federal crimes, but not state offenses. What does this mean for presidential power? Can the President pardon themselves and what other types of amnesty can be put into effect?

A pardon is an act of clemency.

A presidential pardon is given to someone who has been convicted of a crime and pardons them from having any punishments, such as serving jail time. Even though the person’s criminal record is not fully erased, some civil rights might be restored.

After reading about presidential pardons, you might have questions like “What are the limitations?” and “Can a pardon be overturned?”.

The power to pardon is limited in two ways:

  • The President does not have the power to overturn impeachment initiated by Congress.
  • The President cannot pardon individuals for the state crimes they committed. This power rests with state governors instead.

The President’s power to pardon is absolute and cannot be contested by the courts or Congress.

Could the President pardon themself?

The idea of a President pardoning themselves has been present since Richard Nixon was in office. At that time, a memo from the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel stated that a president could not pardon themselves. The memo read, “With the fundamental rule being that no one may serve as their judge, it would seem reasonable to answer this question with a ‘no.'” 

Although this is simply a lawyer’s opinion and not actual law, Nixon did receive a presidential pardon–but it was from his former vice president, Gerald Ford. For the crimes he committed during his presidency (“or may have committed or taken part in”), Richard Nixon was given immunity from criminal charges related to Watergate.

Is there a certain time that is better to receive a presidential pardon?

Timing is rendered irrelevant when a presidential pardon is granted, as the Supreme Court ruling in Ex parte Garland permits pardons to be given at any point after a crime has been committed–not necessarily only once charges have been filed.

What are the key differences between a pardon and a commutation?

A commutation is distinct from a presidential pardon in that it only entails either reducing a person’s sentence or the fine imposed. Unlike a pardon, having one’s civil rights restored (voting privileges, for example) is not included in a commutation. Although, those rights are typically reinstated with a formal pardon.

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