How to write a character reference pardon letter

Written by lea cook
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How to write a character reference pardon letter
A pardon letter should be courteous and professional. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

In criminal law, a pardon is the remitting, in whole or in part, a conviction or punishment imposed for the commission of a crime. Pardons are the exception rather than the rule. There are three classes of pardons --- absolute, conditional and general. An absolute pardon frees the person without any condition, a conditional pardon includes certain conditions, and a general pardon applies to a group of offenders. Offenders can apply for a pardon through the federal or state system and should include letters of support.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Identify the agency that should receive your letter. The power of pardoning federal offences rests with the President and extends to all federal convictions except impeachment. The power of pardoning state-law offences typically rests with each state's governor. Contacts, addresses and policies can be found at the American Pardon Services website, listed in Resources.

  2. 2

    Consider your reasoning to support the applicant's character. Pardons are not often granted without compelling grounds, such as posthumous innocence, new evidence or political issues. Research other pardons and compare any similar situations.

  3. 3

    Choose an appropriate author or authors. While a mother's heartfelt words may be more compelling, a family member or friend active in the world of politics is likely to have more of an effect. Historically, many pardons have been granted on the basis of politics, not judicial mistake or misconduct.

  4. 4

    Address the recipient professionally, earnestly and courteously. This is not the time to air your distaste or grievances with the President, governor or legal system. Stick to the facts of the case at hand, and be respectful.

  5. 5

    Use correct grammar and spelling. A letter that is difficult to read and filled with mistakes will not be taken seriously. Take the time and effort to edit your letter, and ask another person to edit it as well.

  6. 6

    Describe character attributes of the applicant that are specific to your request. An applicant with no prior criminal record and a solid family and community reputation is more likely to succeed in a request for absolute pardon or modified sentence than a career criminal would be. State specific reasons why the applicant is beneficial to a family or community, not a threat to society, rehabilitated or not capable of committing the crime.

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