A presidential pardon, according to the US constitution, is the right given to presidents to pardon others for committing crimes, to commute sentences of those who have committed crimes, or to extend pardons to those who might be charged with crimes. Notable presidential pardons of the past include President Ford’s pardoning of President Nixon, President Clinton’s presidential pardon of Mark Rich, and President George W. Bush’s commutation of Scooter Libby’s term in prison. These decisions have not always been popular, but the right to exercise presidential pardon is written in the US Constitution.
To paraphrase the rights given in Article II, Section 2 of the constitution, the president can pardon anyone, commute sentences or change sentences for anyone, unless he is impeached. According to present interpretation of this law, the presidential pardon extends to the president himself, and may be used even if a person has not yet been charged with “crimes against the United States.” Thus the presidential pardon can be used not only to overturn convictions, but also to shield people from prosecution.
There have been numerous presidential pardon decisions that have been in the best interest of the United States, at least as perceived by some historians. Decisions to pardon leaders and generals in the Confederate States at the close of the Civil War were meant to help promote peace between the states as the Southern states that seceded were once more part of the Union. President Jimmy Carter pardoned those who had dodged the draft during the Vietnam War in hopes that many citizens would be able to return home. His decision was not particularly popular among those who had served in Vietnam, but it was popular for the many who had protested the war.
In the US, presidents receive requests for pardons of individuals or groups on a regular basis. Average rate of granting pardons is about 10% of those requested, or roughly 60 pardons a year. To deal with the number of pardon requests, the Office of the Pardon Attorney reviews pardons, and makes recommendations to the president on which petitions may be deserving. In most cases, the President can only exercise presidential pardon for people who have committed federal crimes. Many governors have the right to pardon people accused of state crimes.
Some form of pardon laws exists in numerous countries, not just the US. France, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Italy, India, Iran, the UK and many other countries have either presidential pardon laws, or laws that allow their leaders to exert the right to pardon. As in the US, governments that are broken into territories or states may grant pardoning rights to local authorities — like state governors — in addition to allowing the president or leader of a country to grand pardons. The degree to which presidential pardons exist and are granted depends on a variety of circumstances and laws governing each country.