What would happen if the identity of an individual named in a presidential pardon could not be ascertained with certainty, but several people have a strong claim to being the named individual?
For example, two convicts who happen to share the same unusual name (say, "Ebenezer Q. McGillicuddy") independently petition the president for a pardon. The president issues a blanket pardon for the past crimes of "Ebenezer Q. McGillicuddy" but does not include further details that would indicate to which petitioner he is referring (such as enumerating those past crimes). He then dies before he has an opportunity to clear up the confusion. Records indicate that the president had seen both petitions, but do not reveal further evidence to disambiguate the pardon.
How would this scenario play out in the legal system? Presumably both convicts would proceed on the assumption that the pardon applied to them and try to invoke it to their benefit (e.g., demanding release from prison, if still incarcerated). The convicts' respective prosecutors may contest this, pointing to the ambiguity of the wording of the pardon. But then what?
- If the matters went to court, would the cases possibly/necessarily be joined or would they be tried independently?
- In such a court case, is it the convicts or the prosecutors who have the onus of proving that the pardon was (in)valid with respect to the given convict?
- If the cases are tried independently and both judges side with the prosecutors, would this absurd result be grounds for further appeal (since the president obviously meant the pardon to apply to at least one of the petitioners)?
I can imagine that similar cases of uncertain identity of beneficiaries may come up from time to time in financial and estate law, but in those cases it's always a question of allocating or dividing some contested property among the claimants, and awarding both claimants sole ownership of the property is not an option. But a pardon is not property; it can't be divided between the claimants, but there is also no reason (that I can see) why it would need to be awarded to only one or the other; pardoning one person doesn't exclude the possibility of also pardoning the other. So perhaps different rules apply.