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Parsing Presidential Pardons

President George W. Bush decided 1,918 pardon requests during his two terms in office and stuck largely to recommendations from the Office of the Pardon Attorney. ProPublica analyzed 494 randomly selected cases and to find characteristics associated with getting a pardon. The results:

 

Race of petitioner

Whites were more likely to receive a pardon than minorities.

  • 12%
  • 0%
  • 10%
  • 0%
  • 10%
  • 0%
  • Non-Hispanic White
  • Black
  • Hispanic
  • Native American
  • Asian
  • Unknown

Notes: Because there are so few Asian and African Americans in the sample, this result is not statistically significant. Although President Bush pardoned seven African Americans, none was in our sample. The projected pardon rate for blacks is between 2 and 4 percent assuming the sample reflects the actual proportion of African Americans in the cases Bush decided. ProPublica was unable to determine the race of 20 individuals who were denied pardons.

Marital status

Married individuals were more likely to receive a pardon than singles.

  • 12%
  • 5%
  • Married
  • Not Married

Offense

Pardons by type of crime.

  • 20%
  • 10%
  • 10%
  • 7%
  • 6%
  • 5%
  • 5%
  • Theft/larceny
  • Financial crime
  • Drug-related
  • Other
  • Fraud
  • Weapons-related
  • Violent crime

Note: Individuals may have committed multiple crimes or have offenses in multiple categories.

Sentence

People who served prison time were less likely to be pardoned.

  • 12%
  • 7%
  • Probation Only
  • Prison

Note: Other sentences included fines and discharges from the military.

Years since sentencing

People with older offenses were more likely to be pardoned.

  • 25%
  • 10%
  • 2%
  • 8%
  • 20+ Years
  • 10 to 19 Years
  • Fewer than 10 Years
  • Unknown

Subsequent crime found for petitioner

Those with a subsequent crime were less likely to be pardoned.

  • 11%
  • 6%
  • No subsequent crime found
  • Subsequent crime

Note: Although ProPublica attempted a complete background check, it is possible that some petitioners had committed crimes that were too old to be in electronic databases, had records expunged or committed crimes in areas where there is no public access to criminal records.

Financial problems

People with a bankruptcy or lien were less likely to be pardoned.

  • 4%
  • 3%
  • Liens/Judgments
  • Bankruptcy

Congressional letters

People were more likely to get a pardon of a member of Congress wrote to the pardon office.

  • 20%
  • 8%
  • Correspondence
  • No correspondence

Why is it that although prison populations are dominated by black and Latino people, white people get the pardons?  Does the pardon office or president know the race of the person asking for a pardon?

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Presidential Pardons

Presidential Pardons: Shades of Mercy

White criminals seeking presidential pardons are nearly four times as likely to succeed as people of color, a ProPublica examination has found.

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