How to Write a Character Letter for a Presidential Pardon

by Jack Burton

The president's authority to grant pardons is outlined in the U.S. Constitution's Article 2, Section 2.

Pool/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The power to pardon someone convicted of a federal crime is reserved solely for the president of the United States. The president's authority in this area is virtually unlimited. A petitioner seeking a pardon may include character affidavits with the petition. The U.S. 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 secondary status. The most compelling character affidavit is from someone unrelated to the convict.

Step 1

The heading of your letter should include your full name, mailing address, and telephone number, just like the Justice department rules indicate. Directly below your name and contact information, type on three lines "President of the United States, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20500. Skip a line and insert a subject line that states the reason why you're writing. For example, you could use "Character Affidavit for John Doe" and indicate where John is incarcerated. Skip one more line and begin your letter with "Dear Mr. President," followed by a colon.

Step 2

Make the first paragraph a simple, one-sentence declaration. For example, "I believe that John Doe deserves a presidential pardon."

Step 3

Use the second paragraph to describe your relationship to Mr. Doe. Use this letter to show that you and John have a close relationship. If it suits your personal style of writing, use "John" instead of "Mr. Doe;" otherwise, use "Mr. Doe" and provide examples that describe the type of close relationship you share with John. The purpose of your letter is to illustrate that, by virtue of your relationship with John, you are qualified to speak about John's character. Highlight points about John's character and actions that show he's a principled man who committed a mistake.

Step 4

Continue the second paragraph by acknowledging the seriousness of John's crime and your understanding of the sorrow and repentance he has experienced over the event. Stay away from trying to justify John's crime or defending his action. A presidential pardon doesn't absolve the criminal of wrongdoing; instead, a pardon is akin to an act of mercy or grace.

Step 5

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, or that this will send a signal to the courts that a conviction ultimately may be less harshly judged by another authority, or that the behavior that resulted in the conviction is no longer unlawful or that the criminal has vowed to make amends to all who were affected by his conviction.

Step 6

Provide more information about the benefits of a pardon, such as John 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.

Step 7

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

Step 8

Provide a courteous appreciation and thank you for the consideration of your request. Close your letter with "Respectfully," as the salutation, and sign your full name in black or blue ink. Mail or deliver the letter with the wet signature and keep a photocopy or soft copy for your records. If you want, you can provide your friend, John, with a copy of the letter as well.

Photo Credits

  • Pool/Getty Images News/Getty Images

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.