One of the perks of being president: you can commute (reduce) sentences or pardon convicted felons (meaning they have the crime expunged from their record). Here are some notable people who had their crimes absolved by the Oval Office.
- The granddaughter of newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst was kidnapped at age 19 in 1974 by an extremist group called the Symbionese Liberation Army. A few months later, she emerged, assisting the group with a bank robbery. Despite evidence that she was threatened or even brainwashing into committing crimes, she was sentenced to seven years in prison. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence to time served—22 months. On his last day in office in 2001, President Bill Clinton granted Hearst a full pardon.
- Mark Felt was an FBI special agent and ultimately the agency’s deputy director before retiring. He was long speculated to be “Deep Throat,” the mysterious informant who gave information about the Watergate scandal to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post, which would eventually force the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Felt himself was not immune to scandal—in 1980 he was convicting of illegally ordering FBI agents to search the homes of people with suspected ties to the Weather Underground, a racial left-wing organization. He appealed the ruling in 1981, at which point he was pardoned by President Ronald Reagan.
- Richard Nixon resigned the presidency in 1974 to avoid a likely impeachment and conviction for his role in covering up the Watergate burglary. Gerald Ford ascended to the presidency and less than a month into his term, he granted his predecessor a full pardon. The action was controversial, but Ford justified the pardon because he felt the nation needed to move on from Watergate. (And in making the decision, Ford discovered a 1915 Supreme Court decision that found that the acceptance of a pardon equated an admission of guilt.)
- In the early days of The Church Of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) in the 1800s, the church advocated polygamy, or “plural marriage” for its adherents. That’s illegal pretty much everywhere, and Mormons were widely arrested or forced to leave areas where they’d settled. In 1893, President Benjamin Harrison granted amnesty and pardon for Mormons with regards to polygamy.
- President Bill Clinton pardoned his troubled half-brother Roger Clinton of several drug charges dating back to the 1980s.