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The Voter’s Speakeasy featuring unbiased reporting and insight into life at Project Vote Smart from our staff, interns, and volunteers.

Presidential Pardons in 2016

2016 October 05

 On Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016, President Obama granted clemency, forgiveness of a sentence, to 214 incarcerated individuals, 67 of which were serving life sentences in federal penitentiaries. This raises some questions about what clemency actually entails. Clemency, under the US Constitution, allows the President to grant pardons and commutations to federal prisoners.

A pardon is complete forgiveness in sentencing. Upon release, the person will not have any civil disabilities; meaning that they can serve in a jury, vote, or hold office if they chose to do so.


A commutation is more likely to be a reduction in a sentence rather than having it be completely erased (though an immediate release is possible).


The biggest difference between a pardon and commutation is that those who receive a commutation still face civil disabilities and are still unable to vote, etc.


The President’s power to grant pardons is limited to the federal level. On the state and local level, only the governor of the state has the power to grant prisoners pardons.

As of August 2016, President Obama has shortened or ended the sentences of 562 incarcerated individuals, more than the last nine presidents combined. He states that “The power to grant pardons and commutations (…) embodies the basic belief in our democracy that people deserve a second chance after having made a mistake in their lives that led to a conviction under our laws.”


Neil Eggleston wrote on the White House Blog that “All of the individuals receiving commutation today, (were) incarcerated under outdated and ...

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