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A pardon is an act on the part of a state’s governor that exempts a defendant from punishment that has been assessed by a trial court. A pardon is also known as an act of clemency. State constitutions generally set forth a governor’s power to grant pardons. Some state constitutions allow the governor to grant pardons in all criminal cases, except for cases involving treason or impeachment.

A state’s governor has broad discretion whether to grant a pardon to a defendant. The governor usually considers a pardon after the state’s parole board has made a recommendation for the pardon. Although the governor is entitled to grant a type of clemency that is less than a pardon, the governor is usually not entitled to grant more clemency than is recommended by the parole board. The governor is also entitled to reject the parole board’s recommendation regarding a pardon.

In most states, a governor’s power to pardon is limited to criminal cases. It does not apply to defendants who have been imprisoned for civil contempt or for violation of an injunction. The governor has the power to grant a pardon only after a defendant has been convicted of a criminal offense. However, the defendant does not have to be sentenced in order for the governor to grant a pardon.

A state’s governor usually grants a pardon to a defendant after the defendant has fully discharged his or her sentence. Although the governor is entitled to grant a pardon while the defendant is imprisoned, this type of pardon is not common. A state’s parole board will only make a recommendation for the defendant while the defendant is imprisoned if exceptional circumstances exist.

A governor’s power to grant a pardon is not subject to review by the courts. Therefore, a defendant does not have a right to appeal a decision of the governor with regard to a pardon.

There are generally three types of pardons. The first type of pardon is a full pardon. A full pardon exempts a defendant from punishment without any conditions. Any legal disabilities that were imposed by the defendant’s conviction and sentence are removed. For example, if the defendant was prohibited from voting or from being a juror as a result of his or her conviction, the defendant’s right to vote or to be a juror is restored. After the defendant accepts the full pardon and after the defendant is released from prison, the state loses custody and control over the defendant. A full pardon cannot be revoked once the defendant accepts the pardon, unless the pardon was obtained through fraud.

The second type of pardon is a conditional pardon. A conditional pardon releases a defendant from punishment subject to conditions. The conditional pardon is usually used to release a defendant from prison when the defendant is eligible for parole and when the defendant is not a United States citizen. After the conditional pardon is granted, the defendant is usually required to leave the country or to surrender to immigration officers for deportation. The conditional pardon is a contract between the defendant and the state. The conditional pardon may be revoked.

The third type of pardon is a restoration of a defendant’s civil rights or rights of citizenship. For example, if the defendant was prohibited from voting as a result of his or her conviction, a restoration of the defendant’s civil rights or rights of citizenship will allow the defendant to vote. Defendants who have been convicted of certain federal offenses may file applications to have their civil rights restored by a state. However, there are restrictions regarding these applications, such as whether the defendants have completed their sentences or whether the defendants have been convicted of any other offenses.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.


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