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Types of Pardons Within a Grant

The several types of pardons an executive can grant in accordance with the constitutional provision include:

  • reprieves;
  • remittance of fines and forfeitures;
  • sentence commutations and conditional pardons; and
  • all kinds of pardons known to the common law.

Apart from all these types of pardons, the President of the U.S. has the authority to grant amnesty by proclamation.  However, the President has no power to grant reprieves in the case of impeachment and civil wrongs.

The constitutional power of the President to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the U. S. includes sentence commutation.  Hence, the power to commute a sentence forms part of the pardoning power and it can be exercised under a general grant of that power[i].  However sentence commutation will not come within the purview of presidential pardoning power, if such grant is restricted by constitutional or statutory provisions[ii].

Although sentence commutation is granted as a pardon, the former is different from the latter because a pardon is an act of grace proceeding from the power entrusted with the execution of the laws and it relieves the person named from the legal consequences of a specific crime while sentence commutation is the substitution of a lesser punishment for a greater punishment[iii].

In addition to the power to pardon offenses, the constitution also gives the President the power to release penalties and forfeitures which accrue from such offenses.  In certain cases, administrative and executive officers such as the secretary of the treasury are authorized by the Congress to remit forfeitures and penalties[iv].

In most states, the constitution empowers the governor to remit fines and forfeitures subject to the rules and regulations prescribed by law.  Such power of the governor is conferred impliedly by the general provision conferring the pardoning power and not by the express order of the constitution.

The governor shall exercise his/her power of commutation in compliance with the prerequisites prescribed by the legislature.  Only those commutations that satisfy the requirements laid down by the legislature will be treated as valid and enforceable[v].

Apart from the power to remit fines and penalties under regulations prescribed by law, they also have the power to commute capital punishment.  Except where the prosecution has been carried on by the house of delegates, they have the power to grant reprieves and pardons after conviction, but the particulars of every of fine or penalty remitted, of punishment commuted and of reprieve or pardon granted must be communicated to the legislature at each session, with reasons supporting such decisions[vi].

The power of the governor to remit fines and forfeitures are limited to persons who fall within the jurisdiction of the chief executive and they have no power to remit fines and forfeitures on behalf of third persons.

[i] Whittington v. Stevens, 221 Miss. 598 (Miss. 1954).

[ii] Davis v. Grassie, 84 F. Supp. 832 (D. Ill. 1949).

[iii] Hamilton v. Commonwealth, 458 S.W.2d 166 (Ky. 1970).

[iv] 36 Am Jur 2d Forfeitures and Penalties § 49.

[v] Laird v. Sims, 16 Ariz. 521 (Ariz. 1915).

[vi] Ex parte Shelor, 33 Nev. 361 (Nev. 1910).

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