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There is speculation that Trump might be issuing pardons for his family members even if they haven't been charged with a crime.

It seems there is precedent for this and that a President can pardon someone unconditionally for any crime committed within a time period (eg. Ford's pardon of Nixon).

It is unclear whether a President can pardon himself but are there any actual restrictions to the President's pardon powers?

Could a President issue say a pardon for every living person on Earth for all crimes from the beginning of time. Have every murderer, rapist or jaywalker be instantly absolved of his punishment? Would there be anything preventing the President from doing this?

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  • He wants to run again in 2024. Pardoning everyone would put a damper on that.
    – acpilot
    Dec 25 '20 at 15:58
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    Note that Presidential pardons only cover Federal crimes, not state ones. (Nor, I think, to civil suits.) So Trump can't pardon himself or his family in order to escape the numerous possible state-level prosecutions they may well be facing. IOW, his hypothetical 2024 run might have to be conducted from a state prison cell :-)
    – jamesqf
    Dec 25 '20 at 17:23
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    "every living person on Earth" -- It should go without saying, but a US pardon means nothing to a non-US court.
    – cpast
    Dec 25 '20 at 17:33
  • Another interesting aspect to the Presidential pardon power: If those pardons are given integral to a corrupt act. For example, a pardon given pursuant to a payment (or other thing of value) to the president .... would such a pardon be effective? Another scenario to consider: The president issues a pardon to the VP, then the President resigns and now the new President (formerly the VP), issues a pardon to the former president.
    – BobE
    Dec 26 '20 at 4:11
  • I think it's not a legal precedent until it has been ruled on in court. Dec 26 '20 at 18:15
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ArtII.S2.C1.3.1.1 Scope of the Pardon Power

The pardon power embraces all "offences against the United States," except cases of impeachment, and includes the power to remit fines, penalties, and forfeitures, except as to money covered into the Treasury or paid an informer, the power to pardon absolutely or conditionally, and the power to commute sentences, which, as seen above, is effective without the convict’s consent. It has been held, moreover, in face of earlier English practice, that indefinite suspension of sentence by a court of the United States is an invasion of the presidential prerogative, amounting as it does to a condonation of the offense. It was early assumed that the power included the power to pardon specified classes or communities wholesale, in short, the power to amnesty, which is usually exercised by proclamation. General amnesties were issued by Washington in 1795, by Adams in 1800, by Madison in 1815, by Lincoln in 1863, by Johnson in 1865, 1867, and 1868, and by Theodore Roosevelt—to Aguinaldo’s followers—in 1902. Not until after the Civil War, however, was the point adjudicated, when it was decided in favor of presidential prerogative.

The President cannot pardon by anticipation, or he would be invested with the power to dispense with the laws, King James II's claim to which was the principal cause of his forced abdication.

The President may pardon criminal but not civil contempts of court.

A pardon does not return fines paid nor compensation for property taken.

Could a President issue say a pardon for every living person on Earth for all crimes from the beginning of time. Have every murderer, rapist or jaywalker be instantly absolved of his punishment? Would there be anything preventing the President from doing this?

A presidential pardon does not reach any offense that occurred before such law was established by the government of the United States. It does not reach offenses charged by governments, other than the government of the United States.

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One important caveat of the presidential pardon power is that the President can only pardon crimes "against the United States".

That means the President can only pardon federal crimes. A presidential pardon has no power to prevent one from getting punished for committing a state crime. Granting pardons for state crimes is the prerogative of the respective state governments with details laid out in the respective state constitutions.

Most of the "classic" crimes (murder, theft, battery etc.) are not just federal crimes but also part of the criminal codes of all the states. So when the president pardons someone accused of committing such a crime, then the state which has jurisdiction can still put that person on trial. Unless, of course, when that person was already put on trial in a federal court, because double jeopardy does not allow to put someone on trial twice for the same incident.

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    Double jeopardy does not apply to retrial in a state court under the separate sovereigns doctrine (essentially, a crime against the federal government is considered an entirely separate offense from a crime against a state government). This was most recently re-confirmed in 2019 in Gamble v. United States. The federal government will normally refrain from re-prosecuting someone already tried in state court (even if acquitted), but the reverse may or may not be true depending on the state.
    – Kevin
    Dec 26 '20 at 1:40
  • The president may also pardon national crimes, such as those under Article I, Section 8, Clause 10, "To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations; . . .", which also covers international law.
    – Rick Smith
    Dec 26 '20 at 14:59
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    "Unless, of course, when that person was already put on trial in a federal court, because double jeopardy does not allow to put someone on trial twice for the same incident." This is incorrect.
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 28 '20 at 7:31

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