pardon | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction

A pardon in criminal justice is an executive act that forgives a convicted person for a crime, reinstating their civil rights.

Understanding Pardons

So, what exactly is a pardon? Simply put, it is an official ‘forgiveness’ for a crime. This means that a person who has been convicted of a crime is officially excused from the penalties related to that crime. For instance, if a person is in prison, a pardon could set them free. It can also restore rights that were lost as a result of the conviction, like the right to vote or own a firearm. But it’s important to know that this doesn’t erase the fact that a person was convicted. It doesn’t say the person was innocent, but it does let them move on from their past.

Who Can Grant a Pardon?

Above all, a pardon is an act of executive clemency. This means a high-ranking government official grants it. In the United States, both the President and state Governors have the power to issue them. However, the President can only pardon federal crimes, while state Governors can pardon crimes against state law.

Why Are Pardons Granted?

Pardons are granted for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, they’re granted because new evidence has emerged, casting doubt on the convicted person’s guilt. Other times, they’re given to people who have shown they’ve changed their ways and become law-abiding citizens. Moreover, they can also be used for humanitarian reasons, like if a person is very old or very sick. In some cases, they are given as part of political deals or to heal societal wounds after periods of unrest.

Controversies Around Pardons

Despite being an important tool in the justice system, they can be controversial. Critics argue that they can be misused for political gain, allowing powerful people to escape justice. Others believe that pardons can undermine the legal system by letting guilty people go free. However, proponents argue that these are an essential part of a compassionate justice system, providing a way for people to move on from their past mistakes.

All in all, a pardon is a powerful tool in the criminal justice system. It allows an individual to be forgiven for their crime and to have their civil rights restored. Whether you see it as a second chance for individuals who’ve made mistakes, or a potential loophole for those seeking to avoid justice, they play a significant role in our understanding of justice and accountability.

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Last Modified: 07/12/2023

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