A pardon may be granted to a person who has gained a good standing in the community, following the finishing point of the sentence for a transgression. Usually an applicant has to wait for giving his application at least five years after he is released from state supervision. They are granted in many countries nowadays including the USA where individuals are sometimes wrongfully convicted but today such cases are more and more referred to as appeals.
William G. Ross, a law professor at Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham calls pardons “a safety valve in the federal justice system”¯. He rejects the fact that issuing more pardons would have much effect on that system, there should be certain measures taken in solving the system’s ineffectiveness as a separate problem.
Actually, in the United States the pardon power for federal crimes is given to the President according to the United States Constitution, article II, section 2, which declares that the President “shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment”¯. Applications for pardons are referred to review by the Office of the Pardon Attorney, the Department of Justice. Since the year 1977 presidents have received more than 600 pardon petitions every year, and granted only ten per cent of the total number.
According to the Clemency actions chart the greatest number of Presidential pardons were granted by Franklin D. Roosevelt with his 3687 clemency actions, the second place in rating is occupied by Woodrow Wilson and the third one by Herbert Hoover. Generally, pardon power has always been rather controversial. George Washington granted the first federal pardon to the leaders of the Whiskey Rebellion. In summer of the year 1794 the civil protestants formed an armed rebellion in which they brought together in Harrisburg and marched into western Pennsylvania.
The men were taken to prison and sentenced to death by hanging. However, George Washington pardoned them accounting for their mental disorder. Washington released Philson from prison but Husband died before setting free.
Military means of repression of the rebellion set a precedent and American citizens were inclined to change law by means of Constitution amendments. Actually, many pardons are controversial and argued about, they are said to be used for the sake of political advisability rather than in order to correct a judicial fault. The best known precedent after the Watergate political scandal was the pardon of Gerald Ford for the former president Richard Nixon. It was an unconditional pardon for all the crimes Nixon committed while being a President. This pardon provoked a kind of defense reaction and most likely caused a subsequent Ford’s defeat by Jimmy Carter. Nixon was accused of transgressions against the USA, but Gerald Ford declared in his pardon that he grants “a full, free, and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or may have taken part in”¦”¯ (Ford). This pardon contrasted negatively with the clemency offer to Vietnam draft evaders which also stimulated debate. It was considered that the pardon was worked out before Nixon left his post. After this case later on, in 1990, the House of Representatives proposed that pardons should be issued after individuals were convicted, but this proposal was never supported enough. It is estimated that of about 3 thousand pardons and commutation petitions were received between 1981 and 1987, President Reagan, for example, granted 273 pardons, it corresponded to 9 per cent of total number of requests. In contrast, Ford, the most munificent president, granted 47 per cent of the pardon petitions he got. Among the other scandal pardons is Andrew Johnson’s pardon for confederate soldiers in 1870s. President Johnson promulgated his amnesty and pardon for the citizens of Confederate states. Being a supporter of lower classes President intentionally excluded wealthy classes from the pardon. As for George H. W. Bush pardons, the most renowned of them are Elliott Abram’s pardon involved in Iran-Contra Affair and Casper Weinberger pardon who was Secretary of Defense under President Reagan. President Bush granted pardons to Weinberger and five people for their behavior towards the Iran-Contra affair. Bush called him a true American patriot and in his proclamation he emphasized: “I am pardoning him not just out of compassion or to spare a 75-year-old patriot the torment of lengthy and costly legal proceedings, but to make it possible for him to receive the honor he deserves for his extraordinary service to our country”¯ (Bush). Though president has unrestricted pardon power it is unusual to pardon a person before trial and conviction. But as he pardon people on Christmas Eve he said: “what I believe is a profoundly troubling development in the political and legal climate of our country: the criminalization of policy differences”¯ (Bush). As executive pardon is a wise recognition of the fallibility of the system of justice, according to Kathleen Moore’s viewpoint (Moore, 271).
According to The Story of Clinton’s Marc Rich Pardon, President Clinton neglected standard procedures in pardoning Marc Rich. His action bypassed the Justice Department and blindsided Mary Jo White, the U.S. attorney who serves in the district formerly presided over by Giuliani. It was a contrast and disregard of the fact that Rich gained illegal profits and was accused of tax evasion, fraud and “trading with the enemy”¯ in Iran. In his eight years in office, President Clinton pardoned and commuted the sentences of 456 people a little less than Jimmy Carter who granted his pardons to 566 convicted.
Commutation of I. Lewis “Scooter”¯ Libby’s prison term also drew a wide response. George W. Bush was called to pardon Libby, but US mass media opposed President’s pardon for Libby and George W. Bush promised not to do that but still not to leave the terms unchanged. But on July, 2007 he chose so called “third potion”¯, neither prison nor pardon, he commuted Libby’s prison sentence. According to the latest statistics about 20 thousand pardons and clemencies were promulgated by American presidents in the 20th century.