The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday comes from Article II, Section 2, Clause 1: "The President … shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the
…." This provision in the United States
Constitution means that the President has the power to delay the execution of a
sentence as well as the power to suspend a sentence entirely. United
"A reprieve is granted when there is some special circumstance, such as the discovery of new testimony or new physical evidence, and the President feels that this might have changed the outcome of the case had it been known at the time of the trial. He therefore grants a reprieve until the new information can be examined and evaluated by the court.
"A pardon, on the other hand, is the actual suspension or mitigation of the sentence imposed by the court. A complete pardon by the President does not declare that the offender is innocent, but merely that there are circumstances which compel the President to feel that the execution of the sentence would be `unjust.'
"The pardoning power is called `the conscience of the nation.' It is exercised when true justice and a sense of fairness call for the intervention of the President to prevent or lessen the execution of a sentence." (W. Cleon Skousen in The Making of
- The Substance and Meaning of the
Constitution, 544) America
The President is the only person who can issue pardons in federal cases while the Governor is the only person who can do so in state cases. A pardon can be conditional, and it must be accept by the person involved in order to go into effect.
"The power to pardon is one of the least limited powers granted to the President in the Constitution. The only limits mentioned in the Constitution are that pardons are limited to offenses against the
(i.e., not civil or
state cases), and that they cannot affect an impeachment process. A reprieve is the commutation or lessening of
a sentence already imposed; it does not affect the legal guilt of a
person. A pardon, however, completely
wipes out the legal effects of a conviction.
A pardon can be issued from the time an offense is committed, and can even
be issued after the full sentence has been served. It cannot, however, be granted before an
offense has been committed, which would give the President the power to waive
the laws…. United States
"The pardon power has been and will remain a powerful constitutional tool of the President. Its use has the potential to achieve much good for the polity or to increase political conflict. Only the wisdom of the President can ensure its appropriate use." (James Pfiffner in The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, 203-204)
After Richard Nixon resigned from the office of President of the United States in August 1974 and Gerald Ford was sworn in as the next President, Ford pardoned Nixon for "all offenses, both known and unknown," that had anything to do with the Watergate scandal. President Ford thought that the country could better put the scandal behind us if he pardoned Nixon. He discovered that many people did not approve of his pardon, and he lost his own presidential election in 1976 to Jimmy Carter.