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A pardon is the use of executive power that exempts the individual to whom it was given from punishment. The president’s pardon power is based on Article II of the Constitution which says, “…he shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment. Unlike a commutation, which shortens or eliminates an individual’s punishment, a pardon absolves the individual of guilt. For example, President Trump commuted Roger Stone’s prison sentence so that Mr. Stone did not serve the punishment for his guilty conduct. On the other hand, President John F. Kennedy pardoned all first time offenders convicted of crimes under the Narcotics Control Act of 1956 to signal to Congress that the law needed to be changed.

[Last updated in August of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]