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The Pardon
Tarquin even means it.

As they walked off together, Alice heard the King say in a low voice, to the company generally, "You are all pardoned." "Come, THAT'S a good thing!" she said to herself, for she had felt quite unhappy at the number of executions the Queen had ordered.

A pardon is a legal practice, whereby a criminal's offenses are legally blotted out, or a conviction is erased. Normally this can be issued only by the highest-ranking authorities around — the emperor, the king, the president.

Fictionally the overwhelming use of them is to allow the Lovable Rogue (or, less often, a less charismatic villain) to get off the hook by doing the kingdom a great favor: the bandits who protect the prince who had to flee invaders, the Gentleman Thief who prevents a murder in a household he is robbing, the pickpocket who reveals that the Evil Sorcerer had an Artifact of Doom, or other criminals who for once put their talents to good use. This can either lead to a Happy Ending — even if they can not bear to give up In Harm's Way, they can often be recruited to work for the good guys, which may indeed be a condition of the pardon — or last until they break the law again in a series. In the later case, it often acts much like a Mercy Lead.

The Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist may actually catch his prey once or twice, only to be stymied by this.

Historical Fiction, or a Feudal Future, may use an ancient tradition of pardoning some, or all, criminals on special occasions, such as the ascension of a new king, or to dramatize the clemency of the king. Such a general pardon can also feature after the Witch Hunt, or when the Reign of Terror lurches into The Thermidor, while everyone has lost the fervor and is feeling ashamed of the bloodshed.

Corrupt or evil authorities may use it for full blown villains, keeping them in the story.

Super Trope of Last Minute Reprieve. The Boxed Crook is often offered one, as are criminals Trading Bars for Stripes. Whether it's for real is another matter. Can be used as a "Get Out of Jail Free" Card; the pardon may be conditional on their joining a team.

Too many Real Life examples to list them all — include only notably striking cases. The Other Wiki has more here.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

     Anime  

  • In Mobile Suit Gundam Seed Destiny, Shinn Asuka is arrested and confined to the brig after returning a prisoner of war to the enemy (she was dying, and only the enemy had the facilities to save her), as is Rey za Burrel for aiding him. However, Chairman Durandal decides that the matter should be "overlooked" and orders them to return to active duty. The reason behind this is Shinn and Rey are among his most valuable pawns in his hidden agenda, and having them locked up in military prison would really put a damper on that.
  • In Girls und Panzer, one of the incentives for joining and doing well on the Tankery team is 200 passes for lateness. Mako Reizei, an incredible student who has been late 235 times, needs them.
  • This is the center of Franky's backstory in One Piece. His mentor, Puffing Tom, was put on trial for building the Pirate King's ship, the Oro Jackson, and sentenced to death, but managed to get a stay of execution in exchange for working on the Sea Train, a way of connecting Water 7 with nearby islands. Eventually, he succeeded, and Spandam's attempt to get the plans to Pluton under the justification of Tom being a criminal failed, since Tom was pardoned and passed the blueprints on to Iceberg. As a result, Spandam and his Cipher Pol 5 operatives stole Franky's ships to frame him, Tom and Iceberg for attacking the courthouse ship. Tom, however, asked that the pardon be used on the crimes of attacking the court ship, and while he was sentenced to death, the Pluton blueprints remained safe.
    • Being based off Privateers, the Shichibukai also benefit from this when they ally themselves with the World Government.

     Ballads  

  • In Robin Hood ballads
    • Robin Hood and the Monk Little John and Much the Miller's son trick a pardon out of the king, who does not know the extent of their slaughter, but the king is bound thereafter.
    • A Gest of Robyn Hode: King Edward sneaks in to the forest and meets the bandits, pardoning them afterwards.
  • Child Ballads:
    • In Child Ballad 169 "Johnnie Armstrong", he and his band are lured to court with a promise of safe conduct. He asks for a pardon. Instead the king treacherously tries to arrest them.
    • Child Ballad 209 "Geordie" is about a woman pleading for Geordie's life. Sometimes he's pardoned.
    • In Child Ballad 182 "The Laird o Logie", May Margaret pleads for a pardon for Young Logie (or Ochiltrie). She fails but falsifies one and frees him.

     Comic Books  

  • The Incredible Hulk: In issue 280 Bruce Banner gets a presidential pardon after he gains mental control of his Hulk form. In a combination Mythology Gag/potential Exact Words scenario, the pardon is made out to David Banner.
  • In his first appearance in The Brave and the Bold, Time Commander was seeking a pardon for a crime his civilian identity supposedly was innocent of. (It's never revealed whether he actually had been innocent, as his new crimes overrode the idea of a pardon.)

     Fairy Tales  

    Films — Animated 
  • In Tangled, implicit in the epilogue, where all the thugs from the Snuggly Duckling are living out their dreams, and Flynn himself, who had already been slated for execution, gets to marry the princess instead.
  • Queen Victoria pardons the main character of piracy in The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists. Unfortunately, that disqualifies him from the pirate competition.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Adventures of Robin Hood, Robin's first request when King Richard asks what his reward should be is a pardon for his men.
  • O Brother, Where Art Thou?: The protagonist fugitive Soggy Bottom Boys are pardoned of their crimes by Mississippi Governor Pappy O'Daniel (note, irl, O'Daniel was governor of Texas). The sheriff who's been chasing the fugitives doesn't care about the pardon, and tries to hang them anyway.
  • A full pardon of their capital offenses was the incentive for the main characters of The Dirty Dozen to volunteer for the film's mission.
  • Escape from New York. Snake Plissken is offered a Presidential pardon for all of the federal crimes he committed. The catch: the President is currently held prisoner inside the New York Maximum Security Penitentiary, so Snake has to rescue him before he can get the pardon.
  • In the 1977 The Man With The Iron Mask, Phillippe is rescued from prison by a pardon; earlier, the king had asked why, and the minister had explained it was the release of a minor offender to celebrate his clemency.
  • At the end of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Admiral Kirk and crew are arraigned before the Federation Council where their numerous violations of regulations are listed, then all charges but one are dismissed due to "certain extenuating circumstances," i.e. saving the world. (The remaining charge results in Admiral Kirk getting busted back to Captain.)

     Literature  

  • In the Chivalric Romance Gamelyn, Gamelyn violently resists one brother's attempt to cheat him of his inheritance and use false jurors to condemn him. When the king discovers the truth, he pardons him and his brother who helped him, and installs them as royal officials.
  • In Leslie Charteris's The Saint, the one time the police had the Saint dead to rights, he had prevented a train carrying members of the royal family from being bombed. He's pardoned.
  • In Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception, career criminal Mulch is given an amnesty for all past crimes after saving the city of Haven from being destroyed.
    Mulch: Past and future?
    Holly: Don't push your luck.
  • Happens in Victory of Eagles to Laurence to give him reason to fight in a war not understanding his honor before reason he would have fought anyway if given the chance and had already done some fighting. However its revoked (mostly) when England wants Temeraire gone and need a pretext send him away.
    • Another one is issued to Laurence, complete with restoration of his rank, in Crucible of Gold along with orders to keep Brazil/Portugal-in-Exile from being shattered by the the Tswana.
  • In Warhammer 40,000:
    • The driving motivation of The Last Chancers.
    • Amberly Vail offers one to the troopers who were condemned to a penal battalion if they act as an escort to a dangerous mission — much to Ciaphas Cain's distress, at the thought of reintegrating them with the regiment.
  • John Grisham:
    • A presidential pardon starts off the plot of The Broker.
    • In The Brethren the protagonists are inmates in a federal prison who find themselves in possession of blackmail material that might get them all killed or might get them a presidential pardon.
    • In The Firm one of Mitch Mc Deere's conditions for helping the FBI include getting his brother pardoned.
  • Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan series:
    • Executive Orders has President Ryan giving a pardon to CIA agent John Clark, erasing the crimes the latter committed in the prequel novel Without Remorse.
    • In The Teeth of the Tiger, before leaving office Ryan creates a stack of pardons with the names blank, for use by the organization he sets up for covert action against the United States' enemies when the official government agencies are either incapable of acting for whatever reason.
  • In Courtship Rite, Joesai gets a pardon from exile when his brother/co-husband Hoemei becomes the new Prime Predictor of the Kaiel clan.
  • In Jasper Fforde's The Last Dragonslayer, Jennifer gets one at the end.
  • In Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga, Aral Vorkosigan handed around pardons very freely after the Pretendership, for those who technically broke the law in their efforts to reverse the effects of a coup.
  • In Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, the King of Hearts hands out pardons as freely as the Queen does sentences of beheading, though he's somewhat lower key about it.
  • In Dorothy L Sayers's Lord Peter Wimsey novel Nine Tailors, a man deceived his French wife about his need to hide after World War I as a deserter; in fact, there was a pardon for deserters, but he had other reasons to lie low.
  • In Seanan McGuire's October Daye novels:
    • Late Eclipses at the end, Sylvester produces one for Toby.
    • Ashes Of Honor: Tybalt observes that he can pardon or punish Raj as he sees fit.
  • In David Brin's The Uplift War, after a subordinate kills his superior for trying to violate the laws of war, he is pardoned for it.
  • President Buckman, in the backstory for Caliphate, uses the power of presidential pardon as a weapon against Americans he politically opposes, pardoning all but one person who murdered the opponents (the exception was due to the murderer having been determined to have killed purely as revenge for an affair between the victim and the killer's wife, and had nothing to do with political issues).
  • In Mockingjay Katniss agrees to be the face of the rebellion in exchange for a full pardon for the victors who are being held by the Capitol.
  • In Poul Anderson's Technic History story "The Man Who Counts", when an alien woman is unable to get a pardon for her husband, she poisons the leader, and blackmails his son by threatening to accuse him of poisoning his father, getting the pardon.
  • In Andre Norton's Ice Crown, Princess Ludorica thinks Roane is a smuggler and offers her a free pardon (and money) if she helps.
  • In The Wheel of Time, Elayne pardons Thom Merrilin of any crimes he committed in Andor and Cairhien, including the assassinatin of King Galldrian.
  • In Julie Kagawa's The Iron Queen, Oberon and Mab offer Meghan a pardon, remitting the sentence of exile for dealing with the new Iron King.
  • At the end of Solo Command, Han Solo and Wedge Antilles discuss this in relation to Gara Petothel, aka Lara Notsil, aka Kirney Slane, who was an Imperial Intelligence agent and spied against the New Republic but then defected and dealt immeasurable damage to Warlord Zsinj's fleet. However, they conclude that (being a fleet general and a fighter commander) they really don't have the authority to issue a pardon, and the only person they could really ask (Princess Leia) is off on other duties and can't be contacted. In the end, they compromise, deleting the (admittedly circumstantial, but quite persuasive) evidence that she survived the book's climax from the ship's logs and declaring the case closed. Mercy Kill confirms that she survived, is happily married to Donos and they have their own travel business called "Donoslane excursions"..
  • In Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn, the king pardons the outlaws at the end.

     Live Action TV  

  • The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.:
    • Brisco & Bowler recruit chronic recidivist Pete Hutter to their Magnificent Seven Samurai plot with a promise of a full presidential pardon for all crimes he has committed.
    • Another episode has them going after a Big Bad who has a blanket pardon letter for all crimes past and future from the Governor of Louisiana. They catch him by tricking him into leaving Louisiana.
  • In an episode of Kung Fu, Caine is approached by a seaman telling him that the Chinese Emperor will give him a pardon if he surrenders himself. It's a lie, albeit one that the Emperor is in on.
  • In Doctor Who episode The Deadly Assassin, the Doctor's trial is rushed so that he can be executed before the new President is installed, which is traditionally celebrated with pardons for criminals. The new President would not, then, face the choice between letting his predecessor's murderer go and thwarting tradition.
  • Jim Rockford was given one of these before he opened his detective agency.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In Prickly City, Kevin gets one for Carmen after Soldronera and assures her it's like it never happened.

     Video Games  

  • In Fallout: New Vegas the Courier receives two invites, to work for the NCR and the Legion, both of which include amnesty for any crimes the Courier has previously carried out against these factions.
  • In the computer game Robin's Quest, among the items the player searches for are the shredded pieces of pardons for Friar Tuck, Little, Will Scarlet, et. al. Once you've found all the pieces of a particular pardon, that character joins your band of Merry Men.
  • Valkyria Chronicles III has the Gallian Army Squad 422, also known as "The Nameless". A Badass Army of convicts who win the pardon for their services in the war against The Empire.

     Web Comics  

     Western Animation  

     Real Life  

  • Abraham Lincoln once gave a pardon to his son's toy soldier.
  • President Gerald Ford gave his predecessor, Richard Nixon, a "Full and Unconditional Pardon" following his resignation for the Watergate scandal.
  • Colonel Thomas Blood was pardoned by King Charles II after attempting to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London.
  • Mass pardons of most or all prison inmates occurred in the tumultous history of Russia during revolutions or power shifts. One of the major ones occurred after Stalin's death: the political prisoners were all released from the gulags, but so were the real crooks. This led to crime skyrocketing in the Soviet Union.
  • The murderer of John Wesley Hardin was given a pardon by the governor, apparently on the assumption that it was effectively a public service.
  • Every year during Thanksgiving, the sitting President of the USA "pardons" a turkey so that he can go live out the rest of his days on a farm. While this is often treated as if it were a long-standing tradition, it actually is much Newer Than They Think, having originated with George H.W. Bush. John F. Kennedy is sometimes cited as precedent for the tradition, but he only spared a turkey because he thought it was too skinny to be worth eating.
    • On a more serious and controversial note, Presidents frequently pardon a number of people when heading out of office for one reason or another. Often this involves pardoning the friends or relatives of top campaign donors, or even their own friends and relatives should any of them be in need of a pardon. This tends to draw even more criticism when the person being pardon is a fugitive from justice, rather than somebody who actually faced trial and went to prison. But since pardons are the president's only constitutional power that has no limits placed on it, he literally can pardon anyone he pleases (who is charged with a federal crime; if you're charged with/convicted of a state crime, the President can't help you, although maybe the state's governor can) and no one can legally do anything about it. In fact, the Constitution seems to indicate that a president could even pardon himself for crimes committed in office, but such a thing has never happened and even Richard Nixon never so much as considered actually doing it.
  • Some time after the Witch Hunt in Salem, Massachusetts, all those convicted were pardoned by the governor.
  • Treason pardons have at times been given en masse after an unsuccessful revolution. The assumption is that the act of military victory itself, and selective execution of ringleaders is enough to Scare 'Em Straight, and once that is done it is important to compliment that with a reputation for magnanimity so as to leave as few grudges behind as possible. Also hanging thousands of people at once is not aesthetically attractive even if theoretically proper under the law.
    • After the American Civil War most Confederates up to Lee himself were pardoned. Jefferson Davis underwent two years imprisonment.
      • All Confederates, including Jefferson Davis, were granted Amnesty and Pardon for the crime of treason. Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, however, forbade any Confederate who held a government or military position before the war from holding one after the war unless overriden by a two-thirds vote in each House of Congress. Neither Lee nor Davis received this full re-instatement of citizenship rights until long after their deaths.
  • Julius Caesar pardoned his political enemies left, right and center. Part of it was strategy and part of it was subtle humiliation - in Roman society being pardoned instead of killed meant you were kind of a loser.


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