Q: Presidential pardons are not so unusual, but what does it really mean? You’re innocent, charges are dropped?
-B.W., Woodland Hills
A: In 1915, the United States Supreme Court stated in the case of US v. Burdick that a pardon carries an imputation of guilt, and acceptance of the pardon carries a confession. It would not be accurate therefore to describe a pardon as a complete exoneration or a proclamation of innocence. A pardon is simply the act of the United States president setting aside the punishment for a federal crime. Its authority is found in Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 of the United States Constitution.
Q: Can Trump pardon his family? Can he also pardon himself?
A: The Constitution does not preclude pardons that may look bad (in other words, have the appearance of self-interest or even a conflict of interest). In 1993, then-President George H.W. Bush pardoned a number of officials from President Ronald Reagan’s administration for conduct related to the Iran-Contra affair. Some thought H.W. himself had a self-interest in issuing those pardons. As to a president pardoning him or herself, there is no case on it. Some say the pardon language is quite broad, that there is no express exception to a “self pardon.” Others say the word “grant” with regard to a pardon means granting something to someone else, not to yourself. In 1974, a few days before President Richard Nixon resigned, the then-acting head of the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel, Mary C. Lawton, issued a succinct legal opinion that “it would seem” Nixon could not pardon himself since “no one may be a judge in his own case.” So to answer your questions: Trump could pardon his family, but it is unclear that if he pardoned himself it would be valid and upheld.
Ron Sokol is a Manhattan Beach attorney with more than 35 years of experience. His column, which appears in print on Wednesdays, presents a summary of the law and should not be construed as legal advice. Email questions and comments to him at email@example.com.
Source: Orange County Register