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Yesterday, President Trump made a speech applauded by law enforcement encouraging their rough treatment of suspects, specifically including a removal of protection from physical injury when a suspect is being loaded into a police vehicle for transportation. The context of the speech indicated that the rough treatment should be especially applied on the basis of perceived national origin.

If some career prosecutor in the Department of Justice didn't or doesn't "get the memo" against investigation and prosecution of federal civil rights violations by police, could an officer accused of this violation successfully claim that this speech (and/or others like it) contained a presidential pardon?


It seems clear that no conviction needs exist at the time of the pardon nor does the specific crime need to be identified (e.g. Ford's blanket pardon of Nixon), nor does the specific individual being pardoned have to be identified (e.g. Carter's pardoning of draft dodgers), and that official pronouncements from this President do not necessarily come in formally structured executive orders (e.g. Tweeted ban on transgender military service). These factors suggest the answer may be "yes," but I am not familiar with the actual requirements of what it takes to make a pardon valid.

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In short, no, that cant be a pardon for those police officers who would be now influenced to take more violent actions towards those they detain. Pardons are only applicable to past actions. You may be pardoned before charges are filed, but the actions must have already occured.

Though I less certain about this, simply because Ive never heard such a thing proposed, I would also note that it is highly improbable that the actual statement he made - generic and during a speech - could everbe interpreted as an affirmative act intending to grant pardons to anyone who may act in that manner in the future.

  • The question was careful to focus on federal civil rights law. – WBT Jul 29 '17 at 22:28
  • Apologies, did not notice that. The middle paragraph is applicable, though. – A.fm. Jul 29 '17 at 22:29
  • Officers who have done these actions already might be interested in claiming the pardon, whether or not they've been prosecuted/convicted yet (those processes take a while!). The question still stands. – WBT Jul 29 '17 at 22:29
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    True, but I am confident no court would interpret that speech as contituting a pardon. Pardons are in fact actual things that must be filed, etc. – A.fm. Jul 29 '17 at 22:31
  • There is an Office of Pardon Attorney that formally handles these matters, except for in the case of military pardons where they are sent to the secretary of the department. Of course, because the power is unlimited, except in impeachment, it is foreseeable that a president could affirmatively state in a speech “I am pardoning you for ____.” But Trump did not do that. – A.fm. Jul 29 '17 at 22:34

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