40 years ago today, President Gerald Ford used what is formally called
a “pardon” to clear former President Richard Nixon for any
crimes he may have committed during his time in office. A pardon is often
sought from the higher levels of government for crimes and is spoken about
on television and in movies. But what really is a pardon? And how could
it have cleared Nixon from his crimes that seem obvious?
Nixon was held responsible for the scandal commonly known as Watergate.
He had been investigated on the grounds of spying on various political
opponents and then trying the cover it up during his re-election campaign.
After news of these activities came to light, Nixon was investigated and
faced impeachment for his crimes. Ford, however, during his term as president
gave Nixon a “free, full, and absolute” pardon after replacing
him. This saved the ex-president from a potential criminal trial and conviction–proving
that the power of a pardon is widespread and with serious consequences.
Find out more about how Nixon received this blessing and who else is entitled to one.
Pardon Is a Type of Clemency
If you’ve heard of clemency then you already have a basic understanding
of what a pardon is. Clemency is a privilege granted to certain suspects
or convicts of criminal activities that lessens or removes their liability.
Clemency is often issued by the head executive of a jurisdiction, so the
mayor, governor, or president might all be responsible for granting clemency
to certain individuals. A pardon, which forgives all criminal liability
for any wrongdoing, is the highest form of clemency and is rarely handed out.
Many U.S. presidents have made regular pardons, including President Obama,
who has handed out several during his time in office. Pardons, like other
forms of clemency, are considered privileges that are made out of the
leader’s mercy or discretion and depend on the nature of the crime
and the status of the person who is under question. While President ford
pardoning Nixon seemed unfavorable at the time and was not widely supported,
Ford turned the nation’s focus away from the political scandal and
towards actual policy issues. While this pardon paved the way for many
other pardon’s in America’s future and the proceedings involving
pardons, Ford wasn’t the only one to issue a strange or publicized pardon.
One pardon in Florida was issued after the death of the pardoned, thanks
to his famous name. The Doors frontman Jim Morrison had an unresolved
conviction in Florida for public profanity and indecent exposure before
his death in 1970. To finalize this proceeding, Florida Governor Charlie
Crist pardoned Morrison in 2010, a full 30 years after his death.
Other weird pardons include the pardoning of two South Carolina brothers
nearly 100 years after their execution. After the two brothers were charged
with murders they may have not committed due to the racist atmospheres
of the post-war South, they were pardoned 100 years later posthumously.
There is also the weird practice of presidents pardoning holiday turkeys
from being used as a holiday meal and facing death. While strange, the
practice has been in existence for quite some time and is the source of
many jokes and headlines.
While pardons are rare in the common criminal court, pardons do occur around
us in local municipalities, states, or the national level. Nixon’s
pardon is perhaps the most famous, but there are others out there that
are contenders for strangest pardon.