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How to Write a Character Letter for a Presidential Pardon

by Jack Burton

The power to pardon a person convicted of a federal crime is reserved solely to the president of the United States. The president's authority in this area is almost unlimited. A petitioner seeking a pardon may include character affidavits with the petition. Department of Justice rules say they must "contain the full name, address, and telephone number of the reference, indicate a knowledge of the offense for which you seek pardon, and bear a notarized signature." Relatives by blood or marriage may submit petitions, but they are considered of secondary status.

Begin the letter with "Mr. President:" or "Dear Mr. President:"

Make the first paragraph a simple-one sentence declaration. For example, "I believe that Bill Jones is deserving of a presidential pardon."

Describe your relationship to Mr. Jones in the second paragraph. Build a case that you know him as more than as a casual acquaintance -- that you are so close to him that you can peer into his very soul. Outline the points about Mr. Jones that make him a person of high worth who has committed a mistake.

Continue the second paragraph by acknowledging the seriousness of Mr. Jones' crime and your understanding of the sorrow and repentance he has experienced over the event.

Give specifics in the third paragraph about the benefits that society as a whole will receive by a pardon. For example, the world will see that U.S. justice is not compromised by politics, that this will send a signal to the courts that an unjust conviction ultimately may be judged by another authority, or that the behavior that resulted in the conviction is no longer unlawful and this would be a way to make amends to all who had been convicted of the former offense.

Provide more specifics about the benefits that the pardon will confer on Mr. Jones, such as his being able to live his last few months at home with his family before he dies of a terminal disease, or that he will be able to rejoin the ranks of society as a productive person instead of a liability and drain on the federal budget.

Ask directly for an act of mercy, with the assurance that the president will never have reason to regret the act.

Provide a courteous appreciation and thank you for the consideration of your request.

About the Author

Jack Burton started writing professionally in 1980 with articles in "Word from Jerusalem," "ICEJ Daily News" and Tagalong Garden News. He has managed radio stations, TV studios and newspapers, and was the chief fundraiser for Taltree Arboretum. Burton holds a B.S. in broadcasting from John Brown University. He is a 26-year veteran of the U.S. Navy/Navy Reserves and the Navy Seabees.

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