Office of the Pardon Attorney

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Pardon of Joe Arpaio by President Trump

The Office of the Pardon Attorney, within the United States Department of Justice, in consultation with the Attorney General of the United States or his or her delegate, assists the President of the United States in the exercise by him of executive clemency as authorized by Article II, Section 2, of the US Constitution. Under the Constitution, the president's clemency power extends only to federal criminal offenses. All requests for executive clemency for federal offenses are directed to the Office of the Pardon Attorney for investigation and review. The pardon attorney prepares the department's recommendation to the president for final disposition of each application.

Executive clemency may take several forms, including pardon, conditional pardon, commutation of sentence, conditional commutation of sentence, remission of fine or restitution, respite, reprieve and amnesty. A pardon may be posthumous.

The Office of the Pardon Attorney currently has a staff that includes the Deputy Pardon Attorney, an executive officer, four staff attorneys, and its clerical staff and paralegals who assist in the review of petitions. Currently, Rosalind Sargent-Burns is the Deputy Pardon Attorney, and William Taylor II is the executive officer.[1]


Since 1789 various offices within the federal government have provided the president with administrative support for the exercise of executive clemency. A presidential order in 1865 formally delegated this responsibility to the Department of Justice. The office's current name was adopted in 1894.[2]

Pardoning standards[edit]

When the President proposes to exercise his or her executive clemency, the case is directed to the Office of the Pardon Attorney for review.

There are five standards for someone to be considered to be pardoned. Generally, the petitioner must be in a good standing during their sentence and must wait a period of at least 5 years before applying to pardon.[3] However, this five-year wait period can be waived.

The first standard is how the persons conduct, character, and reputation have been during conviction. This means that the individuals conducted themselves as responsible and knowledgeable people who are aware of their crime and are ready to return to normal society. They must have the potential to create a better society by achieving employment, providing for themselves and loved ones, as well as keeping a clean criminal background.[3] A very recent example of this would be when President Trump pardoned 63 year old Alice Marie Johnson after the case was brought up by celebrity Kim Kardashian. The White House described their reasoning for the pardon by stating “while this administration will always be very tough on crime, it believes that those who have paid their debt to society and worked hard to better themselves while in prison deserve a second chance".[4]

Second is the seriousness and when the offense occurred. When the offense is years in the past and didn't affect many people, the chance to achieve a pardon is much greater than if the offense was very recent and a high crime. Things that must be considered include how the victims would deal with the pardon, and how it will set a precedence for future similar crimes.[3] During his presidency, President Barack Obama granted 1,715 clemencies.[5] Most of these were for nonviolent drug offenders, in an effort to get non-serious offenders out of prison and to reverse the negative outcomes from the War on Drugs.

Third is the individual's acceptance of responsibility and self-awareness of how serious their actions were. The individual's behavior, if they are creating excuses or reasons why they committed the crime, will greatly lower the chances of pardon. If the individual desires forgiveness and portrays complete responsibility for their actions, then the chances are much higher.[3] Generally, every person who is considered for a pardon exudes these behaviors.

Fourth is the legal disabilities the individual suffered from the conviction. Someone like a lawyer or doctor may have lost their licenses as a result of their conviction. This may grant reason to consider a pardon. Though pardons for this type of relief are minimal and very rare, they will not be put at a higher priority over an otherwise deserving person who has a desire for forgiveness.[3] An example of this would be when President Andrew Johnson pardoned Dr. Samuel Mudd in 1869. Dr. Mudd was imprisoned because he treated John Wilkes Booth’s leg after Booth assassinated President Lincoln in 1865.[6] This crime wasn't a very serious crime, considering Mudd claimed he wasn't aware of Booth's actions at the time and he was doing what his profession entailed.

Lastly, referrals and recommendations from people in powerful positions like politicians, attorneys, judges, and even victims are looked over carefully to decide if an individual is worthy of a pardon.[3] A very controversial pardon was when President Bill Clinton pardoned his brother, Roger Clinton Jr., for cocaine possession and trafficking convictions.[7]

Posthumous pardons[edit]

Posthumous pardons are rare because it is generally Department of Justice policy to not accept requests for non living persons.[8] This is due to the limited resources and personnel at the Department of Justice, and cases involving living persons take precedent over those who are deceased. The same procedure and reasoning is applied to clemency applications for federal misdemeanors, giving precedent to cases involving federal felony convictions. This structure is designed to allow the DOJ to devote its time to those who will receive the greatest benefit from Federal clemency. Presidents Clinton, W. Bush, and Trump are the only 3 to have granted posthumous pardons.[8]

Steps and process[edit]

The Office of the Pardon Attorney handles all and every clemency related correspondence and issue, including petitions and applications.[2] This involves several steps. The Office receives and reviews clemency correspondences,[1] and investigates applications along with the files sent with them to make more valid the petitioner's plea for pardoning.[1] It then prepares a recommendation for each application, and sends it to the president for his final decision as to whether or not to grant a pardon.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d "Office of the Pardon Attorney". 2014-03-02. Retrieved 2018-10-25.
  2. ^ a b "Frequently Asked Questions | PARDON | Department of Justice". Retrieved 2018-03-04.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Standards for Consideration of Clemency Petitioners". 2015-01-12. Retrieved 2018-09-28.
  4. ^ "Alice Marie Johnson Is Granted Clemency by Trump After Push by Kim Kardashian West". Retrieved 2018-10-22.
  5. ^ "Obama grants final 330 commutations to nonviolent drug offenders". Washington Post. Retrieved 2018-10-23.
  6. ^ Valentine, Vikki. "NPR : Clearing Dr. Mudd's Name". Retrieved 2018-10-22.
  7. ^ "10 famous people who received presidential pardons - National Constitution Center". National Constitution Center – Retrieved 2018-10-22.
  8. ^ a b "Policies". 2015-01-12. Retrieved 2018-10-25.

Further reading[edit]

Crouch, Jeffrey (2009). The Presidential Pardon Power. University Press of Kansas. ISBN 978-0700616466.

External links[edit]