What if someone serving time in a state prison gets elected president?

  • Would it be legal for the state to continue to incarcerate a US president?
  • Can he order himself to be released (for example, on the grounds of national security)?
  • Assuming he'd have to stay in prison, would his vice president take over?
  • 2
    Related: Can the president pardon himself?
    – PMF
    Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 7:40
  • 1
    Once again, a question I posted, and mine was downvoted until I had to delete it
    – SegNerd
    Commented Aug 25, 2023 at 15:10

1 Answer 1


A Presidential Pardon does not affect the States at all

A president clearly can not pardon himself for a state crime, because the president does not have that as an enumerated power. Presidential pardons are limited in the Constitution, Article II Section 2 Clause 1.

The President... shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.

A person convicted of a state crime is not convicted of an offense against the United States, and thus, the conviction does not become moot by a presidential pardon. He stays incarcerated, as he is still convicted in the state prison and not pardoned of the state crime.

It takes a pardon from the state's governor to pardon a crime on the state level.

It's unclear if a president can pardon themselves

Ohwilleke's excellent answer covers the problem of a person being president trying to pardon themselves of a federal crime.

  • 1
    Did you mean to use the word "tangent"?
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 20:41
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    Odd way to use the word "tangent", from my point of view as a non-lawyer. "Tangent" means "touching". It does not "touching" the States? (The word "tangent" as used in trigonometry may superficially appear to have nothing to do with "touching", it you learndd trigonometry from the standard textbooks, but there's a reason why "touching" is the right thing to call that.) Commented Jul 20, 2023 at 2:58
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    @Trish It is not an idiomatic translation. I think you mean "A Presidential Pardon does not affect the States"
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jul 20, 2023 at 14:23
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    It doesn’t really matter if a President can pardon himself, because he can declare himself to be unfit to serve due to being imprisoned, at which point the Vice President becomes acting President and can pardon the President, who then resumes his duties.
    – Mike Scott
    Commented Jul 22, 2023 at 15:54
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    @MikeScott that doesn't liberate him - he is still convicted in the state, which his presidential pardon does not touch at all.
    – Trish
    Commented Jul 23, 2023 at 2:51

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