For over 125 years, the President has relied on the Attorney General and his or her designees in the Department of Justice in exercising executive clemency power with regard to persons who have committed offenses against the United States. Within the Department, the Office of the Pardon Attorney (OPA) is the senior management office assigned to carry out this function, under the direction of the Deputy Attorney General. The long-standing role of Department officials advising the President on clemency matters is reflected in various public record documents dating back to the late 19th century. Moreover, since at least 1898, Presidents have adopted advisory rules to describe their programs for processing clemency applications and their directions to the Attorney General in carrying out the Department’s clemency advisory functions.
The rules, which govern OPA’s work, but do not bind the President, are approved by the President and published by the Attorney General. The current version of the administrative rules was promulgated in October 1993 and amended in August and September 2000. They are published in 28 C.F.R. §§ 1.1 to 1.11 and are also available on OPA’s web site at https://www.justice.gov/pardon/legal-authority-governing-executive-clemency.
The two principal forms of clemency sought by applicants are Pardon after Completion of Sentence and Commutation (reduction) of Sentence. The traditional standards by which clemency applications are evaluated in connection with the preparation of the Department’s letters of advice to the President have been utilized for decades and are publicly available in the Justice Manual at https://www.justice.gov/jm/jm-9-140000-pardon-attorney.
The major functions of OPA are to:
- Receive, evaluate, and investigate clemency petitions submitted to the President and prepare the recommendation of the Department as to the appropriate disposition of each petition for the signature of the Deputy Attorney General.
- Provide policy guidance in connection with clemency proceedings and the standards for decision.
- Review and respond to inquiries concerning executive clemency petitions and the clemency process from applicants, their representatives, members of the public, Members of Congress, and various federal, state, and local officials and agencies.
- Maintain contacts with senior level Department officials, the Counsel to the President, and other government officials, to advise them on clemency matters and carry out any clemency-related initiatives or directives as requested.
- Prepare all necessary documents to affect the President’s decision to grant clemency; and notify each clemency applicant of the President’s decision concerning his or her clemency petition.