Office of the Pardon Attorney

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

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 designee, assists the President of the United States in the exercise of executive clemency as authorized under 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 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.


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.[1]

The office currently has a staff of that includes the deputy pardon attorney, an executive officer, 4 staff attorneys, and its clerical staff and paralegals who assist in the review of all petitions.

Executive clemency under President Trump[edit]

Pardon of Joe Arpaio by President Trump

As of October 2018, President Trump has granted four commutations of sentences and seven pardons, one of which was a posthumous pardon.[2] President Trump had broken with tradition when he first granted a full unconditional pardon to Joe Arpaio early into his first term as President. Trump also later granted a full unconditional, posthumous pardon to John "Jack" Arthur, who was sentenced in 1920.[citation needed]

It is not uncommon for Presidents to deny petitions for clemency. President Trump has denied 82 requests for pardons and 98 requests for commutations as of October 2018.[3] Compared to other Presidents, Trump has issued the least amount of denials of petitions in the first 12 months of office since George H. W. Bush except for Barack Obama.[4] Although President Obama issued zero denials his first year in office, he would end his second term with the greatest number of petition denials across all Presidents.[citation needed]   

President Trump's grants of Executive Clemency
December 20,2017 Sholom Rubashkin Bank fraud; false statements and reports to a bank; wire fraud; mail fraud; money laundering and aiding and abetting; willful violation of Secretary of Agriculture and aiding and abetting Commutation
August 25, 2017 Joseph M. Arpaio Contempt of court Pardon
March 9, 2018 Kristian Mark Saucier Unauthorized retention of defense information Pardon
April 13, 2018 Lewis "Scooter" Libby Obstruction of justice; false statements; perjury Pardon
May 24, 2018 John Arthur Johnson Violation of the White Slave Traffic Act Pardon (Posthumous)
May 31, 2018 Dinesh D'Souza Campaign contribution fraud Pardon
June 6, 2018 Alice Marie Johnson Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine; attempted possession of 12 kilograms of cocaine with intent to deliver; attempted possession of 9 kilograms of cocaine with intent to distribute; attempted possession of 75 kilograms of cocaine with intent to distribute; attempted possession of 10 kilograms of cocaine with intent to distribute; conspiracy to commit money laundering; money laundering; structuring monetary transactions Commutation
July 10, 2018 Dwight Lincoln Hammond Use of fire to damage and destroy property of the United States Pardon/Commutation
July 10, 2018 Steven Dwight Hammond Use of fire to damage and destroy property of the United States Pardon/Commutation

Pardoning standards[edit]

Any time the President wishes to exercise his or her executive clemency, the cases are directed to the Office of the Pardon Attorney for review.

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

Executive Grant of Clemency for Alice Marie Johnson

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.[5] A very recent example of this would be when President Donald 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".[6]

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 put into consideration are how the victims would deal with the pardon, and how it will set the precedence for future similar crimes.[5]During his presidency, President Barrack Obama managed to grant a total of 1,715 clemencies.[7] 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.[5] 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 crime. 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.[5]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.[8] This crime wasn't a very serious crime, considering Dr. Mudd claimed he wasn't aware of Booth's actions at the time and he was doing what his profession entailed. The pardon also set precedence for laws that have to do with medical ethics that we have in place today.

Lastly, the 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.[5] A very controversial example of this is when President Bill Clinton pardoned his brother, Roger Clinton Jr. for cocaine possession and trafficking convictions. President Clinton used his position as President to recommend his brother as a deserving recipient of a pardon.[9]

Posthumous pardons[edit]

Posthumous pardons are usually rare because it is generally Department of Justice policy to not accept requests for non living persons.[10] 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.[11]

Steps and process[edit]

The Office of the Pardon Attorney's purpose is to handle all and every clemency related correspondence and issue, including those such as petitions and applications.[1] There is several steps by which they do this.

The first step of the Office's job is to receive the clemency correspondences, and review them.[2] They go on to investigate the further, the applications along with whatever files were sent with in order to make more valid the requester's plea for pardoning. [2]They then formulate a recommendation for each application, and send them on to for final decision by the president as to whether or not give them a pardon. [2]As of current, Larry Kupers holds the position of Deputy Pardon Attorney, and William Taylor II holds the executive officer position.[2]


  1. ^ a b "Frequently Asked Questions | PARDON | Department of Justice". Retrieved 2018-03-04.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Office of the Pardon Attorney". 2014-03-02. Retrieved 2018-10-25.
  3. ^ "Office of the Pardon Attorney". 2014-03-02. Retrieved 2018-10-25.
  4. ^ "Clemency Statistics". 2015-01-12. Retrieved 2018-10-25.
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Standards for Consideration of Clemency Petitioners". 2015-01-12. Retrieved 2018-09-28.
  6. ^ "Alice Marie Johnson Is Granted Clemency by Trump After Push by Kim Kardashian West". Retrieved 2018-10-22.
  7. ^ "Obama grants final 330 commutations to nonviolent drug offenders". Washington Post. Retrieved 2018-10-23.
  8. ^ Valentine, Vikki. "NPR : Clearing Dr. Mudd's Name". Retrieved 2018-10-22.
  9. ^ "10 famous people who received presidential pardons - National Constitution Center". National Constitution Center – Retrieved 2018-10-22.
  10. ^ "Policies". 2015-01-12. Retrieved 2018-10-25.
  11. ^ "Policies". 2015-01-12. Retrieved 2018-10-25.

Further reading[edit]

Crouch, Jeffrey. (May 26, 2009). "The Presidential Pardon Power"

University Press of Kansas. ISBN 9780700616466.

External links[edit]