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9 Famous Presidential Pardons and Commutations

If you have been convicted of a federal crime, there is a chance that your sentence could be shortened or even pardoned by the President of the United States. Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution gives the president the power to excuse your federal conviction. This does not apply to any state offenses.

In order to be granted a presidential pardon, you must petition for a pardon and bring it to the attention of the Office of the Pardon Attorney. To do so, you submit an application a minimum of five years after your conviction.
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Unfortunately, presidential pardons are not often granted. Recent presidents have granted the following number of pardons:

  • Barack Obama – 52 pardons
  • George W. Bush – 200 pardons
  • Bill Clinton – 456pardons
  • George H.W. Bush – 200 pardons

Some pardons that have been granted throughout the years have made headlines due to the celebrity status of the person pardoned or the nature of the crimes for which they were convicted. Let’s take a look at 9 famous presidential pardons…

1. Richard Nixon

After being involved with a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the infamous Watergate Scandal, President Nixon was forced to resign, but this did not mean he was safe from criminal prosecution. He was convicted of justice, abuse of power and contempt of Congress. However, his successor, President Gerald Ford, gave him a full pardon in 1974. Ford said that the pardon was the best way for the country to move on from Nixon’s wrongdoings.1

2. Peter Yarrow

American singer Peter Yarrow was convicted of taking “improper liberties” with a 14-year-old girl in 1970 after he made sexual advances towards her when she came to his hotel room asking for an autograph.2Yarrow is best known for forming the folk music trio “Peter, Paul, and Mary,” and creating the song “Puff, the Magic Dragon.” He served three months in prison for sexual assault until Jimmy Carter granted him a presidential pardon largely due to his social activism and notoriety at the time.3

3. Junior Johnson

In 1956, one of NASCAR’s first stars was caught by federal agents for illegally manufacturing non-tax-paid whiskey in North Carolina. He served 11 months in federal prison for the crime. By the early 1980s, Johnson became bothered by the fact that his criminal record kept him from voting. In 1981 he filed a request for a pardon and President Reagan granted it, restoring his basic civil rights.4

4. Jimmy Hoffa
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Hoffa was a famous labor leader who fought for the rights of workers as president of the Teamster Union. He is most famous for securing a national trucking contract in the mid-1960s. In 1964, Hoffa was convicted of fraud and jury tampering, which landed him a 13-year prison sentence. Hoffa only served four years before Nixon agreed to pardon him. His release came with the condition that he would resign from the Teamsters Union and no longer participate in union activities.5

5. Patty Hearst

Hearst was kidnapped and held for ransom by a radical guerilla group called the Symbionese Liberation army in 1974. She shocked the world by saying she had actually volunteered to join the group, and even helped them in a bank heist that year. Hearst received a seven-year prison sentence for bank robbery in 1975. President Jimmy Carter felt that this punishment was too harsh and she may have even been brainwashed by the group. He commuted her sentence after she served 22 months in prison.7

6. Marc Rich

In 1983, Marc Rich, a successful commodities trader, hedge fund manager and businessman, was charged with 51 counts of tax evasion. He was also accused of completing illegal oil deals with Iran during the 1979-1980 hostage crisis. Rich never served time in prison because he was living in Sweden and never returned to the United States. However, during Bill Clinton’s last week in office, he granted him a pardon for his crimes. Nobody knows why Clinton did this, but reports suggest it could be linked to large donation Clinton and other Democrats received from the Rich family.8

7. John Forté

The Grammy-nominated recording artist was arrested in 2000 at Newark International Airport for accepting a briefcase containing $1.4 million worth of liquid cocaine. He was convicted for possession with intent to distribute cocaine and sentenced to 14 years in prison. Senator Orrin Hatch, a songwriter and avid fan of Forté, fought for his release. In 2008, President George W. Bush commuted his sentence.

8. Vietnam War Draft Dodgers
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The president can also pardon masses of people at a time, as Jimmy Carter did in 1977. Evading the draft is a violation of the Military Selective Service Act. During the unpopular Vietnam War, an estimated 200,000 people dodged the draft. President Carter pardoned these persons in 1977 to heal the wounds left from the war.

9. George Steinbrenner

In 1974, the longtime New York Yankees owner pleaded guilty to making illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon and obstruction of justice charges. Although he did not go to jail, Steinbrenner was fined $15,000. As one of his final acts as president, Ronald Reagan pardoned Steinbrenner. He was likely pardoned because he aided the FBI in two separate investigations between 1978 and 1983.

Let the Criminal Defense Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich Help You Today

A presidential pardon may be the last resort for you or your loved one who has been convicted of a crime. You can give yourself the best possible chance to be granted a presidential pardon or commutation of sentence with a capable and skilled attorney fighting for you. With over 30 years of experience in these matters, the attorneys at Wallin and Klarich are here to help you through this process.

With offices located in Orange County, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Torrance, Riverside, West Covina, Victorville, Ventura, San Diego and Sherman Oaks, one of our knowledgeable attorneys is always available to help you

Call us today at (888) 280-6839 for a free phone consultation. We will get through this together.


1.[http://www.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/wayoflife/01/05/mf.presidential.pardons/index.html?iref=24hours]
2. [http://theawarenesscenter.blogspot.com/2006/04/case-of-peter-yarrow-of-peter-paul-and.html]
3. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Yarrow]
4. [http://articles.latimes.com/1986-01-13/sports/sp-27726_1_junior-johnson]
5. [http://www.history.com/news/history-lists/7-famous-presidential-pardons]
6. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:James_R._Hoffa_NYWTS.jpg]
7. [Id.]
8. [http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1862257_1862325_1862324,00.html]

About Wallin & Klarich

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Wallin & Klarich was established in 1981. Over the past 32 years, our law firm has helped tens of thousands of families in their time of legal need. Regardless of whether our clients faced criminal or DUI charges, the loss of their driving privilege, or wanted to clean up their criminal record, we have been there to help them.