The presidential pardon process has existed since the beginning of the United States. It is common to hear about the sensational pardons, such as Patty Hearst or George Steinbrenner, but most examples of presidential forgiveness are granted to ordinary citizens who have taken the necessary steps to make good on their criminal past.
To apply for a presidential pardon, one must meet certain threshold requirements as outlined by the Department of Justice. An application for presidential pardon is destined to fail if these prerequisites are not met. You must wait until five years passed since the termination of your incarceration period before petition the president for a pardon (supervised release does not count against this five years). This is an internal requirement by the Department of Justice. In the words of the Office of the Pardon Attorney, it is there "to demonstrate an ability to lead a responsible, productive and law-abiding life." Implicitly, there is also a requirement that you have not gotten in legal trouble since the completion of your federal sentence. If your sentence only involved probation, then the waiting period starts on the date of sentencing.
In addition, you must provide a certified copy of your criminal arrest record, as well as copies of your credit reports and any civil law suits to which you have been a party. Additional criminal charges could be levied against you if you misstate or omit relevant requested information. Explanations for any negative entries in your past are vital and must be properly constructed and included with your pardon application.
You also must include three sworn character references. You can include more, but three should be designated as primary. Relatives and spouses cannot be used as character references. It is of the greatest importance to make sure you have solid references supporting your pardon petition. Employers, church ministers, mentors and elected officials make excellent references for your application.
The rationale for your seeking of a pardon is perhaps the most vital part of your pardon application. This part of the application must be where you focus most of your energy and concentration. Since you really only get one chance to make a first impression, many people find it helpful to retain counsel experienced in the presidential pardon process to especially assist in making sure this part is done correctly.
Unlike many state pardon processes, the federal process does not allow for a hearing. You will receive a response that either affirms or denies your request. Since the pardon power is exclusive to the president per the terms of Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, there is no appeals process if you are denied. When applying for a presidential pardon, you want to put make the very best impression on the reviewing pardon attorney.
Nathan Moore is the founder of the Tennessee criminal defense law firm Law Offices of Nathan Moore, based in Nashville, Tennessee. His practice includes criminal defense, appeals, expungements and applications for pardons. If you would like to apply for a presidential pardon, you can learn more about the process on his website or by calling (615) 346-2213.