CAN YOU BE PARDONED FOR A CRIME BEFORE YOU'RE EVER CHARGED?
By Jacob Leibenluft
Posted Monday, July 21, 2008, at 6:36 PM ET
With six months to go before President Bush leaves office, the White House is receiving a flurry of pardon applications. The New York Times reported that "several members of the conservative legal community" are pushing for the White House to grant pre-emptive pardons for officials involved in counterterrorism programs. Wait—can a president really pardon someone who hasn't even been charged with a crime?
Yep. In 1866, the Supreme Court ruled in Ex parte Garland that the pardon power "extends to every offence known to the law, and may be exercised at any time after its commission, either before legal proceedings are taken, or during their pendency, or after conviction and judgment." (In that case, a former Confederate senator successfully petitioned the court to uphold a pardon that prevented him from being disbarred.) Generally speaking, once an act has been committed, the president can issue a pardon at any time—regardless of whether charges have even been filed.
As the Explainer has pointed out before, there aren't many limits to the president's pardon power, at least when it comes to criminal prosecutions under federal law. The president's clemency power has its origins in the practices of the English monarchy, and as a result, the Supreme Court has given the president wide leeway under Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution. There are some exceptions: The chief executive can't pardon someone for a violation of state law or nullify a civil ruling, and his power doesn't extend to convictions handed down in an impeachment proceeding. (It's also not clear whether the president can pardon himself for future convictions.)
Wow, it never ends with Bush and Cheney...