An answer to a recent question stated:

In modern, peacetime U.S. practice, the main use of the pardon power has been to restore the civil rights of people who admit to having committed crimes and have served their sentences and reformed, so that they can, for example, apply for a job not available to felons, or vote, or get a hunting license and use a firearm. Only a tiny share of modern pardons are granted to people who are currently serving sentences for the crimes of which they were convicted or to people who have not yet been convicted of crimes.

My understanding is that a pardon only effects that you no longer must bear the consequences of a conviction, it does not remove the conviction. Thus I want to ask for clarification on the part where it states that pardoned individuals "apply for a job not available to felons, or vote, or get a hunting license and use a firearm". I figure the three options are either:

  1. I am not entirely correct about what a pardon by the President does.
  2. The prohibitions on felons to applying for jobs not available to felons, voting, get a hunting license and using a firearm are part of the pardon
  3. The statement is not correct.

What are the actual legal effects of pardons issued by the President of the United States?

  • 1
    In light of recent news, it might be worth noting that a presidential pardon does not have much effect on the liability of an executive branch officer who misapplies the law, since such people wouldn't normally face criminal charges for doing that. There is generally also at least qualified immunity from civil suit, and beyond the extent of that immunity a pardon has no effect on civil liability.
    – phoog
    Commented Apr 14, 2019 at 18:29

2 Answers 2


It depends on your location. A felony conviction can limit your rights in various ways, and those rights may or may not be restored at the state level. See this article for discussion of federal convictions and collateral civil disabilities. The Dept. of Justics says that "a presidential pardon will restore various rights lost as a result of the pardoned offense and should lessen to some extent the stigma arising from a conviction, it will not erase or expunge the record of your conviction", and "most civil disabilities attendant upon a federal felony conviction, such as loss of the right to vote and hold state public office, are imposed by state rather than federal law, and also may be removed by state action".

This article surveys civil disabilities of convicts on a state by state basis, as well as at the federal level. For example, voting rights are set at the state level, so a state has to have statutes restoring rights upon a pardon if you are to get your voting rights back. Service on a federal jury would be restored per 28 USC 1865(b)(5); the federal felon in possession crime has an exception encoded in it in the definition of "crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year" which says

What constitutes a conviction of such a crime shall be determined in accordance with the law of the jurisdiction in which the proceedings were held. Any conviction which has been expunged, or set aside or for which a person has been pardoned or has had civil rights restored shall not be considered a conviction for purposes of this chapter, unless such pardon, expungement, or restoration of civil rights expressly provides that the person may not ship, transport, possess, or receive firearms.

So if you are a state felon, you need a state pardon (or other state procedure) and if you are a federal felon, a state pardon does no good, you need a federal pardon. However, 21 USC 862 makes mandatory the ineligibility for federal benefits after a third conviction for drug trafficking (either state of federal law), and there is no "rights restoration" clause that restores such rights after a pardon even if the convictions are all federal. I have not located any case law establishing whether federal benefits rights restoration for federal convictions flows automatically from a federal pardon (not many 3-time drug dealers get federal pardons). A federal felony conviction can also be used as a factor in granting a security clearance (applicable to certain jobs), and current law does not say that a pardoned conviction cannot be considered in deciding on a clearance.

  • I think that there is very little doubt in practice that disabilities under 21 USC 862 (or any other federal statute) are eliminated by virtue of a federal pardon. Rights restoration is understood judicially to be incident to a pardon. There is little case law, I think, because the point is so well established and hence, not litigated (and there aren't all that many federal pardons to litigate in the first place). Likewise, the default rule at the state level is that rights deprived from a federal conviction are automatically restored by a federal pardon without separate legislation.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Apr 14, 2019 at 23:58

Wikipeadea’s opening sentence says it all:

A pardon is a government decision to allow a person to be absolved of guilt for an alleged crime or other legal offense, as if the act never occurred.

  • We all make mistakes. Some are speling mistakes, some regard content. Sometimes the spelling is corrected, and sometimes the content, as was the case with the Wikipedia article. It now reads "A pardon is a government decision to allow a person to be relieved of some or all of the legal consequences resulting from a criminal conviction", which is correct. The subject matter is multi-faceted, and legal opinion has changed over time, but today "as if the act never occurred" is not correct. Commented Nov 26, 2020 at 13:03

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