A government pardon is a formal forgiveness for a crime, accompanied with a reduction in sentence. Depending on the nature of the crime and the nation, pardons can come from a number of sources. Heads of state usually have authority to grant pardons and people like state governors may be able to do so as well. In order to receive a pardon, prisoners must submit an application documenting the situation and providing compelling arguments for issuing a pardon.
The pardon does not expunge the record or erase the conviction. Instead, the government forgives the prisoner for committing the crime and reduces the sentence. A government pardon may result in an immediate release from prison if the prisoner has served enough time to satisfy the government. In a related concept, commutation, the government reduces the sentence, but does not forgive the crime. Usually, prisoners have assistance from an attorney with experience in the criminal justice system in the process of drafting a pardon application and soliciting support.
People can use a variety of arguments when they request a government pardon. One option is to request the pardon on compassionate grounds, usually for a prisoner who is very ill or frail. The pardon application may suggest that the prisoner should be allowed to die at home, rather than enduring an illness in prison. Other prisoners may focus on their age at the time of the crime, asking for forgiveness because of extreme youth. Pardon applications may also focus on a prisoner's reform, asking for clemency from the government on the grounds that the prisoner has turned his life in a different direction and wants to contribute to the community outside the prison.
The process of reviewing pardon applications and determining when to grant a government pardon is complex and can be fraught. Politicians are usually reluctant to position themselves as “soft on crime” and they may feel like they need to deny requests for clemency for particularly horrific or high profile crimes. People leaving office may be more inclined to offer pardons because fallout isn't as much of a concern for them.
The government pardon will include a formal written declaration, as well as an order to release the prisoner or reduce the sentence accordingly. The media often covers these events because pardons are relatively rare and in cases where the government grants a request, there may be a human interest story behind the proceedings.