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The Pardon Power of the U.S. Constitution has been broadly interpreted to include a variety of specific powers. Among those powers are: pardons, conditional pardons, commutations of sentence, conditional commutations of sentence, remissions of fines and forfeitures, respites (or repreives) and amnesties.[1]

Respites delay the imposition of sentence but in no way modify a sentence or address the question of guilt or innocence. Historically, presidents have granted most respites for periods of 30 to 90 days and have renewed (extended) such delays when it seemed necessary.[2]

According to the Office of the Pardon Attorney (U.S. Department of Justice), presidents have used respites to varying degrees although, as is the case with every other form of executive clemency, there has been a general decline since 1900.[1] The Pardon Attorney's data for recent use of respites are as follows: William McKinley (6), Theodore Roosevelt (9), William Howard Taft (15), Woodrow Wilson (226), Warren Harding (48), Calvin Coolidge (19), Herbert Hoover (1) Franklin Roosevelt (12),[3] Harry Truman (13), John F. Kennedy (3), Lyndon Johnson (1), Richard Nixon (3), Gerald Ford (5) and Jimmy Carter (3).[4]

Most recently, Bill Clinton twice delayed the court-ordered execution of Juan Garza in order that an ongoing study of bias in the federal death-penalty system might be completed.[5]


  1. P.S. Ruckman, Jr. 1997. “Executive Clemency in the United States: Origins, Development, and Analysis (1900-1993),”27 Presidential Studies Quarterly, 251-271
  2. Microfilm Set T967, National Archives
  5. "Media Spotlight Dims as Garza Put to Death," Houston Chronicle, June 20, 2001