Assuming that, e.g., a sitting President went and shot somebody, and was duly convicted by a jury of his/her peers, etc., in...let's say Washington D.C.... What would happen to the sentence? Would the President continue to be the President in jail? (Admittedly, this leaves out the whole "wouldn't they have been impeached before this" question...but let's assume that Congress is doing something weird again.)

To reiterate: This question does not ask if a sitting President can be convicted of a crime. This question asks what happens to the sentence if and when a sitting President is convicted of a crime, which appears to be possible according to Can the US president be charged of crime such as murder while in office?

  • 1
    Is this also assuming the 25th Amendment is also not invoked? Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 14:58
  • 1
    ...I read the question you say is a duplicate of this question before even asking it, @feetwet. (I presume that it was you who added the duplicate.) That question asks can the President be convicted of a crime while in office. The answer very well seemed to be yes. This question asks, if that happens, if the sitting President is convicted of a crime, what is then done with the resulting sentence?
    – Stackstuck
    Commented Feb 2, 2018 at 1:47
  • 1
    @Stackstuck – got it; just reopened this one.
    – feetwet
    Commented Feb 2, 2018 at 2:28
  • @IllusiveBrian Yes, we are assuming that the President is still in office at the time of their conviction. Unless that's somehow impossible, in which case that is also an answer to this question.
    – Stackstuck
    Commented Feb 2, 2018 at 7:42

2 Answers 2


To start, for this hypothetical to happen, a whole bunch of decisions contrary to sanity have to happen:

  1. The Vice President and President Pro Tempore do not invoke the 25th Amendment to temporarily remove the President from office
  2. Congress does not issue Articles of Impeachment
  3. The President does not pardon himself
  4. The District Attorney decides to prosecute the sitting President rather than waiting for his term to be over

There are probably more I'm missing. With that out of the way, in theory there's no law that says a President cannot serve while in prison, and simply being a felon does not disqualify him from the Presidency. The judge might order that while he was still serving as President, he serve his time under house arrest - he'd constantly be surrounded by police officers, so it would be pretty difficult for him to run, and it would keep him as as able as possible to keep performing the official functions of the office. The judge could also just defer his sentence. Putting him in regular prison would have serious national security implications, both in terms of protecting his person and in allowing him to effectively serve as Commander-in-Chief, so the government could probably make a compelling case against putting a sitting President in prison.

According to this Senate Report, the President will also continue to receive Secret Service protection once he leaves office, so long as he is not removed by Impeachment. There doesn't seem to be a provision against that protection if the President is in prison, so the Secret Service would be obliged to find a way to protect him while he is in prison. Most likely this would mean he would be put in an isolated prison wing, possibly with Secret Service protecting his section.

  • 3
    Thank you for clarifying just how crazy things would have to be for all of this to happen.
    – Stackstuck
    Commented Feb 2, 2018 at 20:31
  • We can remove 4) by assuming a state prosecution, but yeah it's going to be crazy to get here, mainly because the state won't be able to arrest him. Note that the founders put into the constitution a sentence that blocks arresting congressmen but found it unnecessary to do the same for the president.
    – Joshua
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 20:24
  • 1
    @Joshua The initial question was asking about Washington, DC, which is a federal territory. With that said I'm now skeptical of my own answer, I don't think the federal judiciary or a state can order a sitting President to do anything that would interfere with their Constitutional duties, and being able to travel freely is pivotal to most of those duties. Until they're convicted by the Senate a President has a Constitutional role in government which would certainly have legal supremacy over state law and probably is also inviolable under separation of powers doctrine by the judiciary. Commented May 15, 2023 at 23:40

The President would first be impeached by the House and, if upheld by the Senate, would be removed from office. The Vice President would become President, and the impeached President would become a common citizen again. Following that, the former President would be given an actual criminal trial and convicted. He would in theory not be tried before the trial (this was a major source of trouble prior to the Clinton Impeachment).

In theory, the President has Sovereign immunity, so while he is President, he cannot be charged with a crime. Impeachment, while it's supposed to be granted for "High Crimes and Misdemeanors" has historically occurred for "any reason that gets Congress mad enough to demand your removal from office". The Supreme Court has also said that Impeachment is entirely political and thus not up for review by the Judicial branch of government (also, Impeaching a Federal Judge is more common then an executive officer. 15 of the 19 people impeached by U.S. Congress held a Judicial office (Two Presidents, one Cabinet Member and One Senator were impeached. In fact, the Judiciary is the only branch that has lost office holders as a direct result of Impeachment found Guilty by the Senate).

While never impeached, Nixon resigned before his articles of Impeachment were voted on the House Floor. Upon his resignation, Nixon was given a Presidential Pardon by President Gerald Ford, an act which was very unpopular at the time, but is today viewed by some as an act of healing the nation (keep in mind, Nixon won all but Massachusetts in the last election so his ousting was deeply hurtful to the nation. A trial against Nixon would have only made the wounds deeper.).

  • That...seems to contradict the information in the other question. To wit: "The absence of immunity for a U.S. President's unofficial acts was established both in the Nixon Administration and later in the Clinton Administration.".
    – Stackstuck
    Commented Feb 2, 2018 at 1:44
  • 1
    I think your answer would be better organized if you lead with the sovereign immunity then explain how it would work. My initial read of the answer lead to a knee jerk down vote because you lead with impeachment. In theory the house could be split in such a way as to prevent articles of impeachment from ever being drafted let alone voted on
    – Chad
    Commented Feb 2, 2018 at 3:07
  • As Chad said, and as I said, one of the assumptions of this question is that the President is not impeached.
    – Stackstuck
    Commented Feb 2, 2018 at 7:53
  • 2
    Re sovereign immunity: Wikipedia suggests that this is limited to the government having immunity from being sued, not from being charged for an offence. Commented Feb 2, 2018 at 11:43
  • See also, for example, here: voanews.com/a/can-a-us-president-be-charged-with-a-crime/… Commented Feb 2, 2018 at 11:44

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .