I wanted to know whether the POTUS could pardon himself if he/she is criminally charged with treason or some other wrong doing.

  • 5
    Law in the US (and indeed in much of the world) is a game of precedent. When an element of law is vaguely written, as in the presidential pardon power, it remains largely undefined until it is "interpreted" (more accurately, assigned limits and meaning) by the courts. With only 44 presidents in the history of the nation, there have been very few opportunities for the pardon power to be tested, and so it remains largely undefined. In other words, we just won't know until the courts decide, though of course those with legal experience are welcome to present their own interpretations below. Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 19:56
  • See also: Can a US president secretly pardon themselves?
    – Michael
    Commented Aug 9, 2022 at 21:17

2 Answers 2


First, there is no definitive correct answer to this question because it has never happened over the course of 45 Presidencies. But, it certainly could come up. If the President purports to pardon himself for a federal crime and is then prosecuted, the judicial branch would have to decide if the pardon was valid.

But, I would disagree with the answer from @user6726, and would instead take the position that the concept of a pardon inherently implies that one is pardoning someone else. This is why President Nixon, when he resigned, had Vice President Ford, when he became President upon Nixon's resignation, pardon him, rather than pardoning himself. President Bush, in connection with the Iran-Contra scandal also took the position that he did not have the power to pardon himself.

Basically, a pardon is an event that is ordinary conceived of as involving two persons, a giver of the pardon and a recipient. Also, recognizing the power of a President to pardon himself or herself would be to give him or her impunity to disregard the law not just in areas where he or she has Presidential immunity, but in anything that he has ever done in his life. (Also, the President can only pardon federal crimes, not state crimes.)

There is, of course, an academic literature on the subject (which none of the answers in the PoliticsSE refer to and which the other answer here does not refer to). The two leading law review articles addressing the question are:

[C]an the President pardon himself for criminal acts committed while or before holding office? Article II of the Constitution prohibits a President from using the pardon power to overturn an impeachment.5 The Framers of the Constitution placed only this limitation on the ability of the President to exercise his pardon power,6 and the only sanction for the abuse of the pardon power is the removal of the President through impeachment.7 The Constitution is silent, however, as to whether the President may grant himself a pardon from prosecution and, if so, when such a pardon may be issued.8 In the over 20,000 instances that Presidents have used this exclusive power,9 no President has used this power to pardon himself.10

One viewpoint is that a presidential self-pardon is inherently inconsistent with "natural law," which proclaims that one may not judge oneself.11

This article is cited in Comparative Executive Clemency by Andrew Novak who calls it an unresolved question but believes many legal scholars believe that it is possible.

Leading Constitutional law scholar Adrian Vermeule analyzes but does not resolve the issue in his book "The Constitution of Risk".

A 2017 Vox review from 15 legal experts is here. Their views are mixed and nuanced.

A 2017 op-ed in the Washington Post from a former member of Congress who was involved in the impeachment proceedings for President Nixon says "no."

Another review of expert opinion in 2017 can be found here. This also noted a dispute within the realm of academic legal opinion.

There has also been debate over whether treason is treated differently for pardon power purposes than other federal crimes, but the precedent of the pardons issued after the U.S. Civil War pretty definitively resolved this question in favor of the power of the President to pardon treason, so the nature of the federal offense wouldn't matter.

Note also that the pardon power is not limited to cases where criminal charges have been brought or convictions have been obtained. This issue is irrelevant to a President's self-pardon power.

  • 1
    Probably nothing prevents two close friends from agreeing between themselves that they will pardon each other if they become president, and then both becoming president (in whatever order). You may say that two people knowing in advance that they could both be president would be incredibly unlikely, but among certain societal circles I would say not that unlikely - the first president might even back the other one, to give him a better chance, or appoint him vice president.
    – Jon
    Commented Jul 22, 2023 at 21:33
  • Would it make sense to split the pardon power into two powers: (1) the option to pardon someone who has been convicted of a crime, and (2) the power to direct that the executive not expend resources pardoning someone who would be pardoned anyway? Double-jeopardy protections would apply in the first scenario, but someone who has never been prosecuted for a crime would never have been in jeopardy even once. If one recognizes this split, the fact that legitimate prosecutions of a sitting president are delayed until the person has left office would mean that...
    – supercat
    Commented Jan 26 at 21:28
  • ...a president might be allowed to exercise the second power with respect to himself while in office, though such exercise would be redundant, and such exercise would not preclude the possibility of future presidents bringing charges against the former president. By my understanding, by the time Carter took power, interest in prosecuting Nixon had faded to the point that nobody sought to treat Ford's "pardons" as non-binding.
    – supercat
    Commented Jan 26 at 21:32
  • @supercat Those are interesting speculations but catapult the analysis from a Law.SE analysis to a political one.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jan 26 at 22:52
  • Is there anything in US or common-law precedent that would recognize the possibility of binding pardons in cases where someone was pardoned without any sort of indictment, much less prosecution, having happened first?
    – supercat
    Commented Jan 26 at 23:10

The Constitution does not limit the presidential power of pardon to "people besides himself": the only limit is that the president cannot immunize a person against impeachment, though he can pardon the crime underlying an impeachment (which has no effect on impeachment). So if the person is still POTUS, and had not been removed from office, then he could pardon himself. It is more likely that this would happen before the conviction. This also assumes that the crime is a federal crime (like treason), since the power only applies to federal law.


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