Criminal Justice Degrees Guide

10 Most Controversial Prisoner Pardons in History

Every day, thousands of prisoners seek forgiveness and a lessening of their penalty through the appeals process. Those who are forgiven for their offense and released of their punishment have been granted a pardon, which is typically ordered by a head of state such as a president, monarch or church authority at the federal level and by a governor or a pardon board at the state level. The criminal justice system gives prisoners the right to appeal their convictions and bring justice to the defendant, but every once in a while some controversial pardons make their way through the cracks. Here are the 10 most controversial prisoner pardons in history:

  1. Roger Clinton, Jr.: If the name Roger Clinton sounds familiar that’s because he is the half-brother of former President Bill Clinton. In 1985, Roger Clinton was arrested and pleaded guilty for cocaine-related charges. He served more than a year in prison and was controversially pardoned more than a decade later by his brother, Bill Clinton. After his criminal record was erased, he was charged with drunk driving and disorderly conduct in two unrelated incidents.
  2. Aslam P. Adam: Aslam P. Adam was a Pakistani drug trafficker who was convicted of conspiracy to posses and distribute $1 million worth of heroin. Adam served eight years of his 55-year federal prison sentence, but was controversially pardoned by former President George H.W. Bush two days before he left office in 1993. The pardon came as a shock to all, but Bush never gave an explanation for his peculiar actions.
  3. Marc Rich: In 1983, billionaire financier Marc Rich was indicted for tax evasion and charged with 51 counts of tax fraud. The commodities trader was also in trouble for running illegal oil deals with Iran during the hostage crisis, therefore violating a US trade embargo with Iran. During his prosecution, Rich fled to Switzerland and was surprisingly pardoned by former President Bill Clinton, who claimed Rich’s charitable donations in the Middle East helped bring peace to the area.
  4. George Steinbrenner: In 1974, George Steinbrenner, the longtime owner and managing partner of the New York Yankees, was charged with 14 criminal counts for obstruction of justice and conspiring to make illegal contributions to President Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign. Steinbrenner was pardoned by President Ronald Reagan for the election law case, in which he was fined $15,000 but never served jail time. The caveat was that Reagan required Steinbrenner to admit to the crime in order to receive the controversial pardon.
  5. Caspar Weinberger: Caspar Weinberger served as Secretary of Defense under President Ronald Reagan and was one of six individuals involved in the Iran-Contra Affair. Weinberger was suspected of participating in the transfer of U.S. anti-tank missiles to Iran, and was charged with two counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice in 1992. Weinberger was pardoned by President George H.W. Bush, which stopped the legal proceedings against those involved, including the president who was also a former member of the Reagan administration. This pardon led to the Iran-Contra cover-up conspiracy.
  6. Elliot Abrams: Elliot Abrams is a former assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, who was convicted of two misdemeanor charges for withholding secret government information from Congress, concerning the support of Nicaraguan contra rebels. In 1991, Abrams was sentenced to two years of probation and 100 hours of community service. One year later, President George H.W. Bush pardoned Abrams and he was later appointed to another special assistant position by President George W. Bush.
  7. Richard Nixon: President Richard Nixon was controversially pardoned by his successor, Gerald Ford, a year after his resignation. In 1974, President Ford announced the pardon on live television and explained his reasons for forgiving any crimes he may or may not have committed. Essentially, Ford wanted to put an end to the Watergate scandal and bring some relief to the Nixon family, but many believe the men had previously agreed to the pardon when Nixon resigned. Nixon continued to proclaim his innocence until the day he died, and his pardon may have been the reason why Ford lost the 1976 presidential election.
  8. Mark Felt and Edward Miller: Mark Felt and Edward Miller are known as the highest-ranking convicted criminals in the FBI because of their involvement in the 1978 invasion of Vietnam protesters’ homes and offices during the Nixon presidency. The unwarranted break-ins were done to notify the FBI and President Nixon of any suspicious activities and stop any terrorist influences among the draft dodders. Although Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department advised against it, the former president pardoned Felt and Miller for their criminal convictions. Reagan’s reasoning for the pardon was that the men were acting on an honorable mission to protect the nation.
  9. Jimmy Hoffa: Jimmy Hoffa was a labor union leader and president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union who was convicted of jury tampering, attempted bribery, and fraud in 1964. During his 13-year prison sentence, President Nixon pardoned the labor union leader under the condition that he step down as the Teamsters’ president and not manage any labor organization until March 1980. In return, Hoffa supported Nixon’s re-election campaign, but may have defied his wishes by trying to reunite with the Teamsters before his disappearance in 1975.
  10. Patty Hearst: Patty Hearst, the granddaughter of publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst, was convicted of bank robbery in 1976, after she was allegedly kidnapped by an urban guerilla group called the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) who organized the San Francisco bank robbery. Although Hearst’s defense attorney claimed she was abused and brainwashed by the group, she was still found guilty of bank robbery. Hearst was sentenced to seven years in jail and served two before she was freed by Jimmy Carter, who commuted her sentencing. President Bill Clinton gave her a full pardon in 2001 and it became of one his most controversial presidential pardons.