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What’s the difference between a pardon and clemency?

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DETROIT – There’s a new push for former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick to be granted clemency -- but what does that mean, exactly?

Related: Michigan lawmaker traveling to White House to request clemency for Kwame Kilpatrick

In recent weeks, President Trump has issued pardons and granted commutations of sentences to various former officials. So, what’s the difference?

Pardons, commutations and clemency

In the federal system, commutation of sentence and pardon are different forms of executive clemency, which is a broad term that applies to the President’s constitutional power to exercise leniency toward persons who have committed federal crimes.

According to Study.com, Clemency is the act of reducing a penalty for a particular criminal offense without clearing the person’s criminal history. A pardon is when a government official ‘forgives’ a particular criminal offense, either because the individual was wrongfully convicted of the crime or the punishment was inappropriate.

Neither remove the person’s crimes from their criminal history, neither overturn convictions, nor removes them from the public record. That would be expungement.


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