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Pardon vs. commutation: What is the difference and what would it mean for Hunter Biden?

Biden's conviction has sparked questions about whether his father will pardon him or commute his sentence.

The White House has not ruled out President Joe Biden commuting any criminal sentence his son Hunter Biden may receive following his conviction on three federal gun charges this week.

“As we all know, the sentencing hasn’t even been scheduled yet,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Wednesday on Air Force One as President Biden traveled to the Group of Seven summit in Italy.

Jean-Pierre said that she did not “have anything [to share] beyond” what the president had already said about the case.

She said she had not spoken to the president specifically about a commutation but referred to President Biden’s statement made before his son’s conviction that he would not pardon him if he were found guilty.

A federal jury in Delaware on Tuesday found Hunter Biden guilty of lying about his drug use when buying a revolver in 2018. He faces up to 25 years in prison.

The conviction triggered questions about whether Biden will pardon or commute his son’s sentence.

The president is granted the power to commute sentences and pardon convicted felons for federal offenses — a category Hunter Biden now falls under.

What is the difference between a pardon and commuting a sentence? Here’s what we know about presidential powers to forgive a crime:

What does it mean to commute a sentence?

Commuting a sentence means replacing a punishment issued by the court with a lesser one or by deleting it altogether.

A commutation does not erase a conviction, nor does it restore rights lost — such as the right to vote — when a person becomes a convicted felon.

What does it mean to pardon someone?

When a president issues a pardon, it is a complete forgiveness of a crime and restores full citizenship rights.

The president is given the power to pardon under Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution.

The clause states that the president of the United States “shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.”

While the president has the power to pardon, he or she may only pardon people with federal criminal convictions, such as those adjudicated in the United States District Courts, may be pardoned by the President, the Justice Department has said.

“The President’s pardon power extends to convictions adjudicated in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia and military court-martial proceedings,” according to officials. “However, the President cannot pardon a state criminal offense.”

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