Pardon Day: What Is a Pardon?
On this day 40 years ago, President Gerald Ford pardoned former President Richard Nixon for any crimes he may have committed while in office.
If you're not familiar with Watergate, Nixon had been investigated and was facing impeachment proceedings for allegedly spying on various political opponents -- then trying to cover it up -- during his re-election campaign. Ford gave Nixon a "full, free, and absolute" pardon one month after replacing him in the White House, saving the ex-president from a potential criminal trial and conviction.
What exactly is a pardon, and who is entitled to one?
Pardon Is a Form of Clemency
A pardon is one form of clemency -- a privilege that is granted to certain suspects or convicts that either lessens or removes their criminal liability. Clemency is typically issued by the head executive of a jurisdiction (e.g., mayor, governor, or president), and a pardon, which often forgives all criminal liability for a person's wrongdoing, is considered the highest form of clemency.
It has been common for U.S. presidents to make pardons, and President Obama has even made a handful during his two-term presidency. A pardon, like most forms of clemency, is a privilege granted out of a leader's mercy or discretion. The History Channel reports that President Ford's pardon of Nixon was "widely condemned at the time," but it ultimately may have reset the nation's focus away from scandal and on to more pressing policy issues.
Strange and Notable Pardons
While political scholars may argue as to what effect Nixon's pardon had on Ford and even America's future, but it wasn't the only strange or noteworthy pardon in history. Consider these examples:
- Jim Morrison receives posthumous pardon. The Doors frontman Morrison had an unresolved conviction in Florida for public profanity and indecent exposure right before his death in 1970. Making peace with the dead rock legend, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist pardoned him in 2010.
- Brothers pardoned almost 100 years after execution. Two South Carolina brothers received posthumous pardons from a murder they may not have committed -- one entwined with the racism of a post-war South.
- "Pardoning" holiday turkeys. There's some disagreement about which president actually began the practice of "pardoning" turkeys from meeting their end as a holiday meal. But the practice still continues today.
A pardon may have saved Nixon from criminal punishment, but it certainly doesn't necessitate a change in public opinion.
- Gerald Ford's Pardon of Nixon Doomed His Political Future. But It Cemented His Legacy (National Journal)
- 'Charlotte the Deer' Gets a Governor's Pardon (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
- Man Pardoned by Haley Barbour Charged in Fatal DUI (FindLaw's Blotter)
- Browse Criminal Defense Lawyers by Location (FindLaw)
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