What is the rationale behind the idea that accepting a pardon is an admission of guilt

So I’ve read/heard this several places, most recently here. Why would this be the case. It would seem to me that the most obvious place in which a pardon would be appropriate would be when there has been a massive miscarriage of justice and the imprisoned person is in fact innocent.

I can certainly see that being pardoned shouldn’t be taken as proof of innocence, and I can see that someone might want to refuse a pardon in order to have a chance to prove their innocence more thoroughly in the court of law.

But a guy* has been railroaded by racist prosecutor and court of appeals, shouldn’t have to admit to a murder he didn’t commit in order to get off death row.

*purely hypothetical and not related to any real case.

That example doesn’t seem to be what a pardon is usually about. From the Department of Justice itself (emphasis mine):

Also, at least a presidential pardon cannot normally be granted to someone who is currently incarcerated:

I’ve always found the way the US issues pardons to be a peculiarity. In the UK, at least, they were never about overturning convictions for miscarriages of justice, but rather for The Crown (monarch, on advice of her ministers) to provide clemency in unusual situations - in the past, reducing a death penalty for life imprisonment, more recently for convicted criminals who’ve done a good deed, eg saving the life of a prison officer in a prison fight.

In recent times, gay men who were convicted for homosexual acts back in the day have received pardons, in recognition that the conviction at the time was correct, but the law itself was unjust.

But you don’t get a pardon for miscarriage of justice - that’s a job for the court of appeal to overturn the judgement.

The idea behind US pardons was meant to be akin to UK practice.

The reality has sometimes been less glorious, but overall the history has been OK-ish.

Certainly, any discussion related to the Disgraced Former President, whether as pardoner or as pardonee, clearly points out the problem of a pardon system that relies purely on Presidential discretion with a small optional nod in the direction of what historically constituted propriety.

Once pardons are simply one more trinket to be misappropriated or sold for money or political points, the pardon power becomes a scourge. Just another way the rule of laws is subverted in the service of the rule of (a) man.

Even the word ‘Pardon’ speaks to what the intent is. ‘Pardon me’ is a request for forgiveness, and in that an inferred admission of a wrong, even if it’s just someone trying to get by another person in their personal space or interrupting one’s speaking, and used in a polite manor for such a minor (non-legal) infraction.

I think that the criminal justice system operates under the polite fiction that innocent people are not convicted of crimes and, if they are, that the appellate process (and the collateral review process) will fix it. That’s a certain degree of nonsense, of course, but in the overwhelming number of cases the convict is, in fact, guilty. And so, the pardon process is generally used for guilty people who have redeemed themselves or people who were (properly) convicted under statutes or circumstances that we now find unjust.

Interestingly, a least one state (North Carolina) draws a distinction between a “pardon of forgiveness” and a “pardon of innocence”. One effect is that the recipient of a pardon of innocence can petition to have his criminal record expunged. I don’t know how many of each type of pardon is issued in NC, which would be interesting. I don’t think there is a comparable distinction in other states.

Getting a pardon (presidential or otherwise) has historically been associated with having cash to spend, in some notorious instances.

“Cash for clemency” was a feature of Ray Blanton’s tenure as governor in Tennessee in the late '70s… It even spawned a semi-popular song:

Those are the rules for submitting a request for review through the Office of the Pardon Attorney, but the President is free to pardon anyone he wants with or without Pardon Attorney review (as long as they meet the basic requirements for a pardon – e.g. must be a federal offense, the crime must be in the past). Trump pardoned several individuals who were currently serving sentences. (And lest this become another Trump-bashing thread, other Presidents have also gone around the Pardon Attorney to issue pardons.)

Also, even if you wanted to keep the formality, nothing would prevent a commutation of sentence (thus, release) today, and then a pardon tomorrow evening.

You get pardoned for your crimes. Presumably a jury/court found the person guilty of a crime. A pardon does not say the jury/court was wrong. It just says the person shouldn’t have to suffer the consequences because reasons.

If you did not commit a crime there is nothing to pardon. If you accept a pardon then by definition you are agreeing the court finding you guilty was correct.

Conceptually that’s maybe true.

But since in many cases pardon includes release from incarceration, that alone has great practical value to the pardonee regardless of the moral & factual niceties of whatever did or didn’t happen at the crime scene or at trial or on appeal.

Guilty or innocent, rightly or wrongly convicted, I’m just happy to be out & done w the nightmare.

Similarly for folks with interminable prosecutions ahead of them. Finality has value.

It could be seen as, ‘In return for the pardon I accept the conviction and relinquish any future right to appeal it.’
Being able to accept a pardon and continue to appeal the conviction doesn’t have any finality which a pardon should do.

Yeah, the four Blackwater contractors convicted of murder in the Nisour Square massacre are a particularly egregious example. Regardless of the technicalities of a pardon being an admission of guilt, the practical effect and understanding of its meaning doesn’t necessarily match up, even to those that in theory should know better. If I can hold my nose while quoting the attorney for Evan Liberty commenting on his client’s pardon:

“These are four innocent guys, and it is completely justified,” Bill Coffield, a lawyer for Evan Liberty, told the AP.

I think this is it. People want to maintain the belief that a person who is innocent will be exonerated by the regular legal process. Innocent people shouldn’t need a pardon. Pardons are for guilty people.

But, as you note, no legal process is perfect, especially when human beings are running it. Innocent people are wrongfully convicted of crimes and are unable to overturn those convictions. Those people deserve pardons.

But the pardon does not absolve them of potential civil liability.

If it meant, “You are factually innocent of the charges” then there would be no chance for civil lawsuits. Not to mention a federal pardon does not get you out of state criminal liability or vice-versa. Neither says you are factually innocent of the crime.

The pardon gets you out of jail but does not say you are innocent. Getting out of jail is great and worth taking the pardon but it is not complete absolution.

It probably depends upon the state, but does a pardon restore rights denied a convicted person, such as the right to vote, or own a gun?

At least as far as voting rights go, I know states each have their own rules on what effect a felony conviction has. Most states restore voting rights either upon release from prison or completion of parole/probation, some restore them after a specified number of years after release, a few have more draconian laws requiring petitioning the governor of the state, some have lifelong bans for certain crimes such as murder, and in Maine and Vermont the right to vote is never suspended, felons are allowed to vote while in prison. Felony disenfranchisement in the United States.

Depends - a few years ago , the governor in my state started issuing conditional partial pardons to those on parole or serving other types of state-supervised release. Conditional because the pardon would be revoked if the release was revoked and partial because it restored only the right to vote not any of the other rights lost with a felony conviction.

I agree that a pardon shouldn’t say you are innocent but it shouldn’t say you are guilty either.

Suppose for example a person is convicted of a crime but shortly thereafter new evidence is found that indicates he is likely innocent. However, due to racism of whatever, the court of appeals refuses to allow a retrial.

The governor thinks this is a miscarriage of justice and grants a pardon. After he he pardoned, the family of the deceased sues him for wrongful death, pointing out that since he accepted the pardon he is admitting that he killed her, and so uses it as evidence that he should be liable for damages.

This seems wrong to me.

You have to be fair on this point. It is a feature (not a bug) that every president takes advantage of pardons. We have a thread buried here somewhere where people point out controversial pardons people have made like Johnson pardoning Confederates, Ford pardoning Nixon, Carter pardoning draft dodgers, Clinton pardoning his brother and his Sec’y of HUD.

As for the OP, he should read the Burdick decision for why the conflation between pardons and admission of guilt.