How Presidential Pardons Work

How Presidential Pardons Work

President Obama gave out dozens of pardons yesterday, and commuted the sentences of over 200 people – including military whistleblower Chelsea Manning. Here are the differences between presidential pardons and commutations, as well as how the process unfolds.

As Mark Berman at the Washington Post explains, the commutation and pardon process in the USA is fairly straightforward. First, people convicted of crimes apply for executive clemency through the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney. Those applications are reviewed by the deputy attorney general’s office before they make their way to the White House, where the president makes the final decision.

When a commutation is given, the sentence someone is currently serving is cut short. But a commutation does not suggest they are innocent, and it does not do away with civil disabilities like sitting on federal juries and voting. Commutations are typically given while someone is serving time, and the president can only commute federal sentences. State-level convictions are out of the president’s reach.

Pardons, on the other hand, are usually granted after someone has already served their time. A pardon still doesn’t suggest innocence, but it does allow felons to vote, sit on juries, and possess firearms. Pardons do not normally expunge criminal records, but the person’s records are updated to show they were later pardoned, which can help a great deal when they apply for a job.

Obama just commuted much of Chelsea Manning’s sentence. How do pardons and commutations work? [Washington Post]
Photo by Ninian Reid.

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