In most cases murder is a state crime. However, Washington, DC is not covered within any state's jurisdiction. My question is whether the President can pardon someone for committing murder if the crime took place within the geographical boundaries of DC.

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    Is that you, Mr. President? :-p – SJuan76 Jun 6 '18 at 15:59
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    @SteveWoods I'm not aware of any US jurisdiction that excludes murder from the pardon power. The federal pardon power certainly extends to all federal offenses. – cpast Jun 6 '18 at 17:25
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    There is a probable exception for a murder committed by the President. – ohwilleke Jun 6 '18 at 19:12
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    @JAB That doesn't matter. The pardon can be issued before the trial, therefore before the president is removed from office. The reason for the likely exception is laid out at Can president of the united states pardon himself if convicted of treason or some other wrong doing. – phoog Jun 6 '18 at 21:17
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    @JAD President Ford's pardon of President Nixon is a classic example of a pardon that was issued before any prosecution. – phoog Jun 7 '18 at 14:48

The Department of Justice's Office of the Pardon attorney says yes:

Under the Constitution, only federal criminal convictions, such as those adjudicated in the United States District Courts, may be pardoned by the President. In addition, the President's pardon power extends to convictions adjudicated in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia and military court-martial proceedings.

Like other felonies committed in the District, murder charges are adjudicated by federal prosecutors in the Superior Court, so they would fall within the scope of the presidential pardon power, as interpreted by the DOJ.

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  • I haven't seen any readings that interpret police regulations as meaning criminal laws. These are what DC law refers to as police regulations. – cpast Jun 6 '18 at 21:19
  • I had seen some prefatory language in the criminal code that suggested they would be included, but yeah, that seems much more like what they're talking about. – bdb484 Jun 6 '18 at 21:56

Not only is the President allowed to pardon crimes under the DC Code, only the President is allowed to pardon (most) crimes under the DC Code. While the DC Council has the power to pass criminal laws for the District, it acts under delegated federal authority and the offenses it creates are offenses against the United States. The prosecuting authority for all felonies and some misdemeanors is the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, and the cases are brought in the name of the United States. As offenses against the United States, the President can pardon them. It happens to be rare, but has happened (Alfred J. Mack was pardoned of a DC Code offense).

Some territories have laws giving their chief executive the power to pardon territorial crimes. DC does not. It gives limited pardon powers to the mayor, but those apply only to minor crimes enacted by long-defunct city governments and which have virtually all been repealed since at least 1901, as well as to certain regulatory offenses. Murder is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, so the DC mayor’s pardon authority doesn’t extend to murder charges (whether prosecuted under the DC Code or the US Code). In territories like Puerto Rico that give their governor pardon power, the norm is that the President doesn’t try to issue his own pardons for territorial crimes (he might be able to, but it hasn’t really been tested). In DC, there’s no such norm because prosecution of serious crimes is an entirely federal matter anyway.

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  • Thanks for the comments and answers to my question. I don't think I have a definitive answer and am not sure one is really possible. However, I was thinking that the ultimate bar to him pardoning himself for murder within the District would be the notion of "corrupt intent". Examples of corrupt intent include the President pardoning someone for committing a federal crime that benefits him personally. Any pardon the President gives himself would have to be invalidated by that principle, as pardons are only granted for crimes and carry an implied admission of guilt (if accepted :) ). – David Steinhoff Jun 7 '18 at 16:36
  • @DavidSteinhoff where does the notion of corrupt intent enter into it? Also, as a procedural matter there is no need for formal "acceptance" of a pardon, so there is no admission of guilt. A president could furthermore justify a self-pardon without admitting guilt by asserting that he believes a political rival will seek a politically motivated prosecution for a crime he didn't commit, and he wants to save the nation from such a wasteful use of its resources. – phoog Jun 7 '18 at 18:14

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