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Clemency Continued; The Origin Of The Executive Pardon

Clemency Continued; The Origin Of The Executive Pardon

For a country with such an intricate system of checks and balances designed to neutralize undue power, the existence of an executive pardon power may seem odd; it may even seem archaic. But things aren’t always what they seem, and there’s more to this fascinating form of clemency than first meets the eye. Curious about the origin of the executive pardon? In a continuation of our brief series on clemency, we’ll be studying the beginnings of this time-honored custom.

If Not Here, Then Where?

There’s a reason why a monarchical concept like an all-powerful, nearly limitless presidential pardon seems archaic in our advanced democratic system; the idea didn’t originate here at all. The history of our country inevitably intermingles with that of England, and it is deep in the annals of British history where the origin of our executive pardon can first be found, at least in its statutory form (similar concepts are also mentioned in Greek, Roman, and Mosaic law). If you look back far enough in British history, you’ll happen upon a term whose definition matches our presidential pardon almost identically; it’s called the Prerogative of Mercy.

The Prerogative Of Mercy

The first mention of the Prerogative Of Mercy can be found during the time of Anglo-Saxon monarchs, circa 700 A.D. The reigning power at the time was King Ine of Wessex. In its original, unamended form, the Prerogative Of Mercy was stated as follows: “If any one fight in the king’s house, let him be liable in all his property, and be it in the king’s doom whether he shall or shall not have life.” Throughout the reign of ensuing kings, the law would undergo modifications to clarify, broaden and protect this authoritative pardoning power granted to monarchs; the end result looked startlingly similar to the very executive pardon present in current United States law.

Alive And Well; The Enduring Executive Pardon

And there you have it; surviving over 1000 years, the spirit of the Prerogative of Mercy is alive and well in the form of our executive pardon. If you’re interested in further facts about clemency, join us next week as we examine the commutation of sentence. As always, if you or a loved one is in need of legal counsel or representation, Mark Catanzaro has decades of experience in all areas of defense, and the legal acumen to give you the fighting chance you deserve! Reach out today for a consultation!


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