- "Clemency" redirects here. For the town, see Clemency, Luxembourg.
A pardon is the forgiveness of a crime and the penalty associated with it. It is granted by a sovereign power, such as a monarch. Clemency is an associated term which is the lessening of the penalty of the crime without forgiving the crime itself. The act of clemency is a reprieve. Today, pardons and reprieves are granted in many countries when individuals may have been wrongly convicted of a crime or have demonstrated that they have fulfilled their debt to society.
Pardons and Clemency in the United States
Under federal law in the United States, the pardon power is an exercise of executive discretion that is granted to the President in the United States Constitution, Art. II, Sec. 2 which states:
- he shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.
All federal pardon petitions are addressed to the President of the United States and are granted by a sitting president. Typically, applications for pardons are sent for review and non-binding recommendation to the U.S. Pardon Attorney, an Office in the Department of Justice. Since 1977, Presidents have received about 600 pardon or clemency petitions a year and granted around 10 percent of these.
Many pardons have been controversial. Critics claim that pardons have been used more often for political gain than to correct a judicial error. The most famous US pardon in history was the one granted by President Gerald Ford to former President Richard Nixon on September 8, 1974. Polls showed that the majority of American citizens strongly disapproved of this pardon. Other controversial uses of the pardon power include Jimmy Carter's grant of amnesty to Vietnam-era draft evaders, George H.W. Bush's pardons of six Reagan administration officials accused and/or convicted in connection with the Iran-Contra affair, and Bill Clinton's pardons of 140 people on his last day in office.
A presidential pardon can be granted at any time after commission of the offense: the pardoned person need not have been convicted or even formally charged with a crime. In the overwhelming majority of cases, however, the Pardon Attorney will only consider petitions from persons who have completed their sentences and, in addition, have demonstrated their ability to lead a responsible and productive life for a significant period after conviction or release from confinement.
The pardon power of the president extends only to offenses cognizable under federal law; however, the governors of most states have the power to grant pardons or reprieves for offenses under state criminal law. In other states, that power is committed to an appointed agency or board.
Pardons and clemency in Canada
In Canada pardons are considered by the National Parole Board under the Criminal Records Act, the Criminal Code and several other laws. For Criminal Code crimes there is a three year waiting period for minor offences and a five year waiting period for indictable offences. The waiting period commences after the sentence is completed. An application booklet can be obtained from the National Parole Board at 1-800-874-2652. There is a $50 nonrefundable fee for applying for a pardon. The address for a pardon application booklet is:
Clemency and Pardons Division
National Parole Board
340 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0R1
In Canada clemency is granted by the Governor-General of Canada or the Governor in Council (the federal cabinet) under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy. Applications are also made to the National Parole Board, as in pardons, but clemency may involve the commutation of a sentence, or the remission of all or part of the sentence, a respite from the sentence (for a medical condition) or a relief from a prohibition (e.g., to allow someone to drive that has been prohibited from driving).
Pardons and Clemency in the United Kingdom
The power to grant pardons and reprieves is a royal prerogative of mercy of the monarch of the United Kingdom. It was the power of the monarch to release an individual who had been convicted of a crime from that conviction and its intended penalty. There are differences in its use today, though.
United Kingdom: Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974
In the United Kingdom, the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 governs pardons. A royal pardon for an incorrect imprisonment is much as stated above in the Canada section. In addition, people who have committed minor crimes (less than three years in jail) have them struck from their criminal records if they do not reoffend. The point of this is that people do not have a lifelong blot on their records because of a minor indiscretion in youth.
The non-offending period is 5 years for a non-custodial sentence, up to 10 years for a prison sentence of 6 months to 2½ years. for a young offender (under 18), the non-offending period is five years even for prison sentences
This Act does not apply to those working with vulnerable groups, such as teachers and social workers, who must always disclose all convictions.
In addition, those working in professions associated with the Justice system, such as solicitors or police are not allowed to withhold details of previous convictions in relation to their job.
Pardons and clemency in France
Pardons and acts of clemency (grâces) are granted by the President of France, who, ultimately, is the sole judge of the opportunity of the measure. The convicted person sends a recourse for pardon to the President of the Republic. The prosecutor of the court that pronounced the verdict reports on the case; then, the case goes to the Ministry of Justice, direction of criminal affairs and pardons, for further consideration.
If granted, the decree of pardon is signed by the President, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Justice and possibly other ministers involved in the consideration of the case; it is not published in the Journal Officiel.
The decree may spare the criminal part of totality of his sentence, or commute the sentence to a lesser one. It does not suppress the right for the victim of the crime to obtain compensation for the damages it suffered. It does not erase the condemnation from the criminal record.
When the death penalty was in force in France, almost all capital sentences resulted in a recourse for a pardon before the President of the Republic; sentences criminals were given sufficient delay before execution so that their recourses could be examined. If granted, clemency would usually commute their sentence to a life sentence.
The Parliament of France, on occasions, grants amnesty; this is a different concept and procedure, though the expression "presidential amnesty" (amnistie présidentielle) is sometimes abusively applied to some acts of parliament traditionally voted after a presidential election and granting amnesty for minor crimes.
Pardon in Christianity
In Christian theology, pardon is the result of forgiveness, extended by God through Jesus. A pardoned person is forgiven their sins, and thus experiences new birth, or is born again. For more information, see: