Limits to the Efficacy of a Pardon.

But Justice Field’s lati- tudinarian view of the effect of a pardon undoubtedly still applies ordinarily where the pardon is issued before conviction. He is also correct in saying that a full pardon restores a convict to his “civil rights,” and this is so even though simple completion of the convict’s sentence would not have had that effect. One such right is the right to testify in court, and in Boyd v. United States, the Court held that “[t]he disability to testify being a consequence, according to the principles of the common law, of the judgment of conviction, the pardon obliterated that effect.”294 But a pardon “does not make amends for the past. It affords no relief for what has been suffered by the offender in his person by imprisonment, forced labor, or otherwise; it does not give compensation for what has been done or suffered, nor does it impose upon the government any obligation to give it. The offence being established by judicial proceedings, that which has been done or suffered while they were in force is presumed to have been rightfully done and justly suffered, and no satisfaction for it can be required. Neither does the pardon affect any rights which have vested in others directly by the execution of the judgment for the offence, or which have been acquired by others whilst that judgment was in force. If, for example, by the judgment a sale of the offender’s property has been had, the purchaser will hold the property notwithstanding the subsequent pardon. And if the proceeds of the sale have been paid to a party to whom the law has assigned them, they cannot be subsequently reached and recovered by the offender. The rights of the parties have become vested, and are as complete as if they were acquired in any other legal way. So, also, if the proceeds have been paid into the treasury, the right to them has so far become vested in the United States that they can only be secured to the former owner of the property through an act of Congress. Moneys once in the treasury can only be withdrawn by an appropriation by law.”295

Footnotes

294
142 U.S. 450, 453–54 (1892). [Back to text]
295
Knote v. United States, 95 U.S. 149, 153–54 (1877). [Back to text]