We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

Does the US President Have the Right to Pardon Himself?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
Our promise to you
America Explained is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At America Explained, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

The right to pardon is an authority given to the President of the United States (POTUS) by the US Constitution in Article II, Section 2. This section specifically reads that the POTUS “shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.” Essentially, the only way presidential pardon is restricted by the constitution is under the circumstance of the sitting president being impeached. Self-pardon is not restricted by law, and under interpretation by the Supreme Court, a president could have the right to pardon himself not only for crimes he has committed, but also for crimes with which he has not yet been charged. As of yet, no president has actually pardoned himself for committing crimes or from actions that might later be considered crimes.

Failure to impeach a president who has been perceived of as having committed crimes, but has not been charged with such crimes means that the US would have no jurisdiction to convict the president of crimes if he exercised the right to pardon himself. However, in circumstances where international laws are broken, a presidential pardon has no bearing. The only possible solution for convicting a president of for example, war crimes, would be for an incoming president to extradite the former president to the country in which war crimes have been believed to be committed. The fact that a particular POTUS would have pardoned himself would not be given much weight in prosecution by the World Court, or by the court of another country.

There have been suggestions in the past that a specific POTUS would exercise the right to pardon himself. No president has done so at present, even though some presidents were convicted of crimes and could have exercised the right. When President Ford took office he pardoned President Nixon, not exactly a popular move. Since Nixon was not impeached but instead resigned, one of his last acts could have been a self-pardon. Similarly, President Clinton could have pardoned himself for perjury but chose not to do so. If a president commits or is charged with a crime while in office, the succeeding president often grants pardon, though this may not always be a popular decision.

Typically, a president could pardon himself, and according to most interpretations, could pardon himself prior to being charged with a crime. This has led to the argument that the right to pardon should be abridged or rewritten, to prevent a president from acting in this fashion, and thus avoiding prosecution for crimes when he or she leaves office. Others argue that the circumstances under which a pardon would be abused in this manner are so rare it is not worth changing the law, and that presidents given the opportunity to pardon themselves in the past have not done so.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a America Explained contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon998642 — On Jul 21, 2017

Can he pardon anyone, himself included, for State offenses?

By anon998638 — On Jul 21, 2017

Well, hurry up and impeach him. On the other hand, if he pardons himself, it will be like admitting that he is guilty--but what good would that do?

By anon998637 — On Jul 21, 2017

Presidential pardons only refer to federal offenses (offenses against the United States). Murder and other state offenses may still be prosecuted in state courts.

By anon998636 — On Jul 21, 2017

Don't forget that Capone was nailed for tax evasion. All the other stuff- contract murders, briberies, etc etc.. Not as easy to prove courtesy of intimidation and payoffs, but the Feds got him on tax evasion.

Trump thinks he can sneak through this? BS. He can pardon only on federal charges. NY AG and others are going after him on RICO charges on money laundering. State charges.

Oh- don't forget that Putin is going to win regardless. If Trump continues to show favor for all things Russia, Putin wins. If Trump continues on his destructive and incompetent path, Putin wins.

If we remove trump from office for collusion, Putin still wins.

Thank you, incompetent and uninformed trump voters. You gave Putin a checkmate on our democracy.

By anon998491 — On Jun 20, 2017

I would read the phrase, "...except in cases of impeachment" to include cases in which the impeachment was pending. There is ambiguity in every phrase, no matter how expertly conceived. Article 2, section 2, if expanded to mean "except in cases where the house has already voted to being impeachment proceedings", that creates an absurdity. Namely, a rush between POTUS to pardon him/herself and the House to vote to impeach.

Thus I suggest that the proper interpretation may be that the phrase expands to, "except in matters where the House exercises its right to impeach the president." That means that a POTUS pardon would be invalidated by the action of the House, even if POTUS had taken the preventative step of self-pardon.

By anon997971 — On Mar 24, 2017

I remember Trump wondering out loud about pardoning himself before he was elected. It made me wonder what he had done wrong. I am still not sure that the Russians were the source of his hypothetical exploration. I also realize that would imply careful, strategic planning, a skill that I have yet to see from this president.

By anon997062 — On Nov 10, 2016

Of course the President can pardon himself. He is, after all, the executive, part of whose constitutional duty under Article 2 is to bring prosecutions and punish the guilty. You can't jail the head jailer, and you can't prosecute the head prosecutor's boss, unless he allows it.

By anon971339 — On Sep 25, 2014

It's not pardoning himself for crimes he has committed yet, but crimes that he hasn't been charged with yet.

By pollick — On Feb 03, 2012

This sounds like one of those unanswerable thought problems, like "Could God create a rock so big that even He couldn't lift it?". A person given the legal power of forgiveness could theoretically forgive himself, but the deeper question would be who would give someone that much power without any scrutiny? By the time a person reaches the level of a country's leader, he or she has usually been vetted and examined and investigated and checked dozens of times.

People with the authority to keep the president in check wouldn't hesitate to question a decision to self-pardon. I'm sure he or she could get out of a traffic ticket, but if he or she committed a serious felony like mass murder, I don't believe a self-pardon would stand up in a World Court or UN or Supreme Court trial.

I remember hearing that Secret Service agents were once asked by Nixon's chief-of-staff to inform him of any unusual actions by the president during his last few weeks in office. There were apparently some concerns that Nixon would become overwhelmed with emotion and order an unprovoked military action or something equally as irrational. The fact remains that nothing happened. I don't know if another sitting president would ever come close to committing significant criminal acts while in office.

Older white collar crimes may come back to haunt a president, like the Whitewater deal during Clinton's term, but there are too many eyes on a sitting president for him or her to escape notice.

By anon43947 — On Sep 03, 2009

If the POTUS has the legal right to pardon himself for crimes he hasn't yet committed, what's the point of a legal system at all? The President can pardon anyone he feels like, which means he could effectively assassinate the entire cabinet, senate, and House and pardon himself immediately afterwards, and then basically just take over the country, with no legal ramifications. It's basically like saying, "please become a dictator!"

By anon25600 — On Jan 31, 2009

That seems kind of weird. If anyone ever does an update to this really interesting and informative article, I would also wonder if a President can pardon himself for a crime for the purpose of going out and committing it (like if fictional Evil President Ted pardons himself for murder and then strangles his wife's on national TV). If so, I'm surprised I haven't seen any movies with a similar plotline.

By anon23402 — On Dec 23, 2008

1) A president could pardon everyone in his administration including the Vice President.

2) He could then resign

3) the Vice President who would then become the succeeding president could return the favor by pardoning the resigning president.

4) An amendment to the Constitution would also have to take this into account.

5) The president could kill two birds with one stone! The succeeding President (ex Vice President) would be entitled to all the benefits afforded to all retired presidents

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a America Explained contributor, Tricia...
Learn more
America Explained, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

America Explained, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.