How Can A Person Get A Presidential Pardon?

A federal felony can have life altering consequences that extend well past after a conviction has been imposed and any sentence has been served.  In areas such as employment, voting and gun rights, a felony can significantly impact a person’s civil rights. 

On top of that, there is also the social stigma that a felony conviction can bring.  The only real remedy to wipe clean a felony record is a Presidential pardon.  While it is very rare to get such a pardon, it is not entirely impossible.  Here are 5 things to understand about the process:

The President Can Only Pardon Federal Offenses

In order to qualify for a Presidential pardon, a person must have been convicted of a federal offense or an offense in the District of Columbia (which is considered a federal territory).  The President cannot pardon a state conviction.  Only the Governor of each state can do that. 

There Is a Five-Year Waiting Period Before One Can Apply For A Presidential Pardon

Before applying for a Presidential pardon, a person must wait for 5 years before doing so.  If a period of incarceration was imposed, then the 5 years begins to run when a person is released from prison.  If no period of incarceration is imposed, then the 5 years begins to run from the date the sentence is imposed. 

  A Pardon Does Not Absolve A Person Of Responsibility

The rationale behind a Presidential pardon is simply that a person is forgiven for their crimes, not that they are absolved from accepting responsibility.  Thus, a person cannot seek a Presidential pardon on the basis of innocence or to avoid acceptance of responsibility for his or her crime.  If a person is truly innocent, the place to seek relief is in the federal courts and not through a Presidential pardon. 

The Presidential Pardon Process Will Take Into Consideration Several Factors

Presidential pardons are administered through the United States Department of Justice’s Office of Pardon Attorney .  That office will review applications and make recommendations to the President after weighing a number of factors such as the nature of the crime, how recently it occurred, an applicant’s criminal history, whether applicant accepted full responsibility, any unique or particular hardships affecting the applicant, an applicant’s involvement with the community (including his or her character or reputation). 

The Process Starts By Filing A Formal Application

To seek a Presidential pardon, a person must complete and file a formal application.  The application asks a lot of questions that must all be answered truthfully.  As part of the process, an applicant should also gather all pertinent records relating to prior convictions. 

Failure to pay child support or being behind on one’s taxes can be a barrier to obtaining a Presidential pardon.  As part of the process, it is also important to gather as many character references as possible.  This includes letters from past and current employers, leaders in the community (such as members of the clergy) and anyone else that can say positive things. 

While a lawyer is not necessary in the process, an applicant would be wise to seek legal representation.  A lawyer will be more familiar with the forms needed to support the application and how best to obtain records that will bolster an application. 

If you have questions or want to learn more about what we can do for you, contact us at our toll free number at (800) 712-0000 or reach out to us through our client inquiry chat page for a free and confidential conversation about your legal rights.  All inquiries to our firm are considered confidential and privileged.


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Former federal prosecutor, respected lawyer committed to delivering results. Following graduation from the University of Illinois College of Law, Paul Padda began his career in 1994 with the United States Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. litigating complex civil cases in both federal trial and appellate courts. He later was selected to serve as an Assistant United States Attorney in the District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.) where he handled a wide array of civil matters in federal court on behalf of the United States of America. In 2004, Mr. Padda moved to Las Vegas to serve as an Assistant United States Attorney where he litigated both civil and criminal cases. Following 16 years of significant legal experience involving high stakes litigation, Mr. Padda decided to form a law firm that would assist individuals and businesses in vindicating their legal rights.