Amnesty refers to an act of pardoning an offense. Amnesty is granted by a sovereign power and is usually exercised in favor of a group of persons. It refers to the forgiveness of past criminal actions and thereby exempting from prosecution some criminal action[i]. Amnesty can be distinguished from pardon in that amnesty is extended to persons who are subject to prosecution but not yet convicted whereas, a pardon is granted to a person who has already been convicted.
Amnesty is usually provided for political crimes during a period of insurrection or revolt to subjects concerned in an insurrection. The criminals may be offered a promise of immunity from prosecution to abandon unlawful activities. A victorious side in a war may extend amnesty after a civil war to the losers.
It may not be extended to single individuals. It is also referred as a collective pardon as it is exercised in favor of a group of persons. A grant of immunity from prosecution may be coextensive with a person’s privilege against self-incrimination. S/he is fully protected against any prosecution for offenses to which his/her testimony as a witness may link him/her[ii].
A statute providing amnesty is to be construed to advance the remedy provided and protect persons coming within its purview[iii]. The spirit and policy behind the statute is to be given prominence. Relief may be declined only if it is prohibited by a statute. A statute providing amnesty is an example for remedial legislation.
[i] Lincoln v. United States, 49 Ct. Cl. 300 (Ct. Cl. 1914).
[ii] UNITED STATES v. KIRSCH, 15 U.S.C.M.A. 84 (C.M.A. 1964).
[iii] JurisDictionUSA, Inc. v. Loislaw.com, Inc., 357 Ark. 403 (Ark. 2004).