Pardon Me, Mr. President

For many, December is the season to be jolly because of the cluster of holidays, the excitement of gift-giving, and the promise of spending time with family and friends. Others, though, have different reasons to celebrate.

Because of the tradition of a President granting pardons near the end of each year, some Americans are finding less holiday-oriented reasons to be merry.

Presidential pardons basically clear the criminal records of those to whom the pardons are granted. Applying for a pardon is a complex process, and involves review of your criminal case by the United States Pardon Attorney, who then makes a recommendation to the President.

Those with felony convictions are eligible to apply for a pardon five years after their conviction or imprisonment. When reviewing a criminal case to determine eligibility for clemency, the Pardon Attorney considers such factors as the nature and impact of a crime, the criminal’s depth of repentance and level of atonement, any impact on victims and the convict’s current role in his community.

Less-serious crimes committed by those with track records of good behavior and high productivity are the most likely to be pardoned.

The President then decides whether to grant clemency (a pardon), commutation (decreasing) of sentence, remission of fine or penalty, or nothing at all. Traditionally, the President grants several pardons near the end of each calendar year.

Unlike efforts of groups like the Innocence Project, which seek to clear the records of those who have been wrongfully convicted, Presidential pardons are granted to convicts who have been rightfully convicted of crimes, but who seek a clearing of their names.

The New York Times, reporting on some of this year’s pardoned convicts, mentions a man who sought a pardon in order to obtain a gun permit for hunting. In the United States, felony convictions come with certain limitations, including a ban on obtaining firearms, an ineligibility (in some states) to vote or run for public office, and prohibition from obtaining certain licenses.

In certain states, felony convictions can also be grounds for divorce!

Sources note that most of the time, pardons are granted to relatively unknown individuals for non-famous crimes. Another pardoned man mentioned in the Times was interested in a pardon because of his increasing age and failing health-apparently, he wants to exit on a high note, so to speak.

But some presidential pardons are granted to higher-profile figures. The case of former President Richard Nixon comes to mind. After his impeachment, Nixon was granted a presidential pardon by his successor, President Gerald Ford.

Statistically, President George W. Bush has granted the fewest presidential pardons of any modern American president, averaging about 1.7 per month, according to sources. The most pardon-happy president in America’s history was President Truman, who averaged about 20 pardons per month during his tenure in the White House.