A pardon is an act of releasing a convicted person from punishment or exempting him/her from penalty. It relieves a pardoned person by officially nullifying his/her punishment or other legal consequences of a crime. S/he will be regarded as innocent and regain sa status as if s/he had never committed the offense for which s/he was convicted[i].
The President shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offences against the United States, except in cases of impeachment[ii]. The pardoning power is a power granted under the U.S. constitution as well as state constitutions. Certain state constitutions give the Governor broad and unrestricted discretion to issue pardons to whomever[iii].
When a pardon is brought to the attention of a court, it is the duty of the court to discharge the defendant and dismiss the proceedings against him/her. The majority of states have held that a pardon did not entitle a defendant to expunction of all criminal records related to a conviction[iv].
A pardon may be forgiveness for an offense; release from pecuniary obligation; or remission of a penalty awarded for nonperformance of a contract, or a statutory obligation. Pardon may or may not be granted according to the circumstances in a case. A pardon takes effect as soon as it is delivered and accepted by the person who is granted a pardon.
A pardon may be an absolute or a conditional pardon. An absolute pardon completely terminates a penalty and the pardoned convict is put to a position as if s/he has not committed an offense. A pardon is said to be conditional when it is granted upon particular conditions. A person who was granted a conditional pardon may be re-arrested and remanded by a court in execution of the original sentence, if s/he violates the conditions[v]. On a violation of conditions, a pardon becomes null and void. A pardon may take effect on the happening of a stipulated condition. If the stipulated condition is void, the pardon also may be treated as null and void.
A pardon is different from parole in a way that, a pardon absolves a convict from the guilt of his/her criminal acts and exempting him from all consequences attached to it. But, a parole is a conditional release from imprisonment to serve the remainder of his/her term outside the bar, if s/he shall satisfactorily comply with the conditions provided in a parole order. A parole does not vacate the sentence, but merely suspends the execution of a penalty and releases a convict from imprisonment temporarily upon conditions which s/he may accept or reject[vi]. Parole is granted based on the good conduct of a convict.
Probation and parole can be distinguished in that probation involves suspending the imposition of a sentence by a trial judge, while parole is similar to pardon in that it is granted based on the discretion of the executive. Probation is granted as a substitute to imprisonment. An indefinite suspension of sentence on conditions is undoubtedly, however, in practical effect, a conditional pardon[vii].
[i] Harscher v. Commonwealth, 2010 Ky. App. Unpub. LEXIS 441 (Ky. Ct. App. May 21, 2010).
[ii] State ex rel. Dean v. Haubrich, 248 Iowa 978 (Iowa 1957).
[iii] Fletcher v. Graham, 192 S.W.3d 350 (Ky. 2006).
[iv] Blake v. State, 860 N.E.2d 625 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007).
[v] Lee v. Murphy, 63 Va. 789 (Va. 1872).
[vi] State ex rel. Murray v. Swenson, 196 Md. 222 (Md. 1950).
[vii] State v. Radcliffe, 26 Ohio Dec. 87 (Ohio C.P. 1915).