Amnesty

Amnesty

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Amnesty is a legislative or executive act by which a state restores those who may have been guilty of an offense against it to the positions of innocent people, without changing the laws defining the offense. It includes more than pardon
Pardon
Clemency means the forgiveness of a crime or the cancellation of the penalty associated with it. It is a general concept that encompasses several related procedures: pardoning, commutation, remission and reprieves...

, in as much as it obliterates all legal remembrance of the offense. The word has the same root as amnesia
Amnesia
Amnesia is a condition in which one's memory is lost. The causes of amnesia have traditionally been divided into categories. Memory appears to be stored in several parts of the limbic system of the brain, and any condition that interferes with the function of this system can cause amnesia...

. Amnesty is more and more used to express 'freedom' and the time when prisoners can go free.

Amnesties, which in the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, may be granted by the crown alone, or by an act of Parliament, were formerly usual on coronations and similar occasions, but are chiefly exercised towards associations of political criminals, and are sometimes granted absolutely, though more frequently there are certain specified exceptions. Thus, in the case of the earliest recorded amnesty, that of Thrasybulus
Thrasybulus
Thrasybulus was an Athenian general and democratic leader. In 411 BC, in the wake of an oligarchic coup at Athens, the pro-democracy sailors at Samos elected him as a general, making him a primary leader of the successful democratic resistance to that coup...

 at Athens
Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

, the thirty tyrants and a few others were expressly excluded from its operation; and the amnesty proclaimed on the restoration of Charles II of England
Charles II of England
Charles II was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland.Charles II's father, King Charles I, was executed at Whitehall on 30 January 1649, at the climax of the English Civil War...

 did not extend to those who had taken part in the execution of his father. Other famous amnesties include: Napoleon's amnesty of March 13, 1815 from which thirteen eminent persons, including Talleyrand, were exempt; the Prussia
Prussia
Prussia was a German kingdom and historic state originating out of the Duchy of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organized and effective army. Prussia shaped the history...

n amnesty of August 10, 1840; the general amnesty proclaimed by the emperor Franz Josef I of Austria in 1857; the general amnesty granted by President of the United States
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

, Andrew Johnson
Andrew Johnson
Andrew Johnson was the 17th President of the United States . As Vice-President of the United States in 1865, he succeeded Abraham Lincoln following the latter's assassination. Johnson then presided over the initial and contentious Reconstruction era of the United States following the American...

, after the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 (1861-April 9, 1865), in 1868, and the French amnesty of 1905. Amnesty in U.S. politics in 1872 meant restoring the right to vote and hold office to ex-Confederates, which was achieved by act of Congress. Those were true amnesties, pardoning past violations without changing the laws violated.

The last act of amnesty passed in Great Britain
Great Britain
Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

 was that of 1747, which pardoned those who had taken part in the 1745 Jacobite Rising
Jacobite rising
The Jacobite Risings were a series of uprisings, rebellions, and wars in Great Britain and Ireland occurring between 1688 and 1746. The uprisings were aimed at returning James VII of Scotland and II of England, and later his descendants of the House of Stuart, to the throne after he was deposed by...

.

Purposes


An amnesty may be extended when the authority decides that bringing citizens into compliance with a law is more important than punishing them for past offenses. Amnesty after a war helps end a conflict. While laws against treason, sedition, etc. are retained to discourage future traitors during future conflicts, it makes sense to forgive past offenders, after the enemy no longer exists which had attracted their support but a significant number remains in flight from authorities. Amnesty is often used to get people to turn in contraband, as in the case of China's gun restrictions, or the Kansas City ban on pit bulls.
Advantages of using amnesty may include avoiding expensive prosecutions (especially when massive numbers of violators are involved); prompting violators to come forward who might otherwise have eluded authorities; and promoting reconciliation between offenders and society. An example of the latter was the amnesty that was granted to conscientious objector
Conscientious objector
A conscientious objector is an "individual who has claimed the right to refuse to perform military service" on the grounds of freedom of thought, conscience, and/or religion....

s and draft dodger
Draft dodger
Draft evasion is a term that refers to an intentional failure to comply with the military conscription policies of the nation to which he or she is subject...

s in the wake of the Vietnam War
Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was a Cold War-era military conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. This war followed the First Indochina War and was fought between North Vietnam, supported by its communist allies, and the government of...

 in the 1970s, in an effort by President Carter to heal war wounds. (There was no longer a war to protest, and there was no longer a draft to dodge.)

An example of an argument made for amnesty for undocumented immigrants is that they would be allowed to qualify for higher paying jobs, scholarships, and other services. According to the Center for Study of Immigration Integration, if California alone were to adopt an amnesty program, they would benefit by $16 billion dollars (Pastor, 2010).

With amnesty, immigrants can seek out higher education. A RAND study found that, by the age of 30, a Mexican immigrant woman who becomes a legal resident can obtain a college degree. With a college degree she will pay $5,300 more in taxes and cost $3,900 less in government expenses each year compared to a high-school dropout with similar characteristics. Workers who lacked a high-school diploma in 2006 earned an average of only $419 per week and had an unemployment rate of 6.8 percent. In contrast, workers with a bachelor’s degree earned $962 per week and had an unemployment rate of 2.3 percent, while those with a doctorate earned $1,441 and had an unemployment rate of only 1.4 percent (Gonzales, 2010).

Changing a law is a better way to achieve whatever benefit an amnesty offers, if a nation determines that the law has made criminals of people who have done no harm, or deprived the nation of a benefit, and will in the future. Changing a law allows new conditions and requirements, offering more control over the results of any change, than amnesty.

Controversy


Amnesty can at times raise questions of justice. An example was the Ugandan government's offer not to prosecute alleged war criminal Joseph Kony
Joseph Kony
Joseph Kony is an African terrorist who is the head of the Lord's Resistance Army , a guerrilla group that is engaged in a violent campaign to establish theocratic government based on the Ten Commandments in Uganda...

, in hopes that further bloodshed would be avoided. David Smock noted, "The downside of it is the impunity that it implies; that people can commit atrocities and say that they will only stop if they are given amnesty..."

A controversial issue in the United States is whether illegal immigrants should be granted some form of amnesty. It is proposed that illegal immigrants be able to come forward and immediately receive probationary status. This is criticized as being a reward for breaking the law. California Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger is an Austrian-American former professional bodybuilder, actor, businessman, investor, and politician. Schwarzenegger served as the 38th Governor of California from 2003 until 2011....

 said an amnesty program similar to the one the federal government undertook in the late 1980s would be ill-advised today. It just didn't work. "It backfired big-time. It sent the wrong message: You come here illegally, and then we go and give you amnesty. So then, the next million come and they say, 'Hey, we get amnesty, this is really terrific (Press, 2005).

Some allege that at the national level an amnesty program would cost $2.6 trillion (Rector, 2007). This would only include the costs for the first year. The Federal Government would need to hire additional workers to help register immigrants, increasing costs for labor and or facilities. It is also alleged that an amnesty program would draw far more immigrants into the U.S. to receive amnesty, so the costs would continue to increase.

Some allege that due to the large number of illegal immigrants residing in the U.S., the government had to hire outside contractors. This led to mass cases of fraudulent activity. Illegal immigrants were paying off workers to falsify information, grant amnesty for family and or friends, and providing other relevant services. In 1986 it was found that 2.6 million immigrants received amnesty fraudulently Because of the effects of the past amnesty policy, many fear that an attempt to implement another amnesty policy would be a failure. Opponents of an amnesty policy feel that a similar situation to that of 1986 would occur, with bribery and registering of unqualified immigrants.

Related uses of the term

  • The term amnesty is also any initiative where individuals are encouraged to turn over illicit items to the authorities, on the understanding that they will not be prosecuted for having been in possession of those items. A common use of such amnesties is to reduce the number of firearms or other weapons in circulation. Several public schools with a zero-tolerance policy on drugs or weapons have an "amnesty box" in which students may dispose of contraband objects brought to school without consequence.

  • Amnesty was used in South Africa, during the 1990s, as part of the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation)

  • An amnesty law
    Amnesty law
    An amnesty law is any law that retroactively exempts a select group of people, usually military leaders and government leaders, from criminal liability for crimes committed.Most allegations involve human rights abuses and crimes against humanity.-History:...

    is any law that retroactively
    Ex post facto law
    An ex post facto law or retroactive law is a law that retroactively changes the legal consequences of actions committed or relationships that existed prior to the enactment of the law...

     exempts a select group of people, usually military leaders and government leaders, from criminal liability for crimes committed.

  • In the illegal immigration debate
    Illegal immigration to the United States
    An illegal immigrant in the United States is an alien who has entered the United States without government permission or stayed beyond the termination date of a visa....

    , allowing illegal immigrants to legally remain in the United States is often called amnesty. Some observers contend that the word amnesty is improperly applied here. One reason for this contention is that the proposals under consideration include financial penalties for illegal immigrants. Another reason is that the government's current practice is generally to deport but not to prosecute illegal immigrants and there is sometimes no legal adjudication of "guilt" to be forgiven.

  • Many libraries have an amnesty week where people can return late library books and they will not be charged a fine for having them out.

  • At the United States Military Academy
    United States Military Academy
    The United States Military Academy at West Point is a four-year coeducational federal service academy located at West Point, New York. The academy sits on scenic high ground overlooking the Hudson River, north of New York City...

     and the United States Naval Academy
    United States Naval Academy
    The United States Naval Academy is a four-year coeducational federal service academy located in Annapolis, Maryland, United States...

    , any head of state visiting the academy may ask the Superintendent to grant amnesty to members of the Corps of Cadets with outstanding punishment tours, freeing the restricted cadets from further punishment tours. In the past this was for all offenses, but in recent times only cadets with minor offenses (company board) are eligible for amnesty, while cadets with major offenses (regimental or higher board) are ineligible.

Improper uses of the term

  • Describing a change in a law which renders innocent actions which previously broke the law. For example, raising the road speed limit
    Speed limit
    Road speed limits are used in most countries to regulate the speed of road vehicles. Speed limits may define maximum , minimum or no speed limit and are normally indicated using a traffic sign...

     from 55 to 70 is not 'amnesty', even though those who have always driven at 65 may now do so innocently; this is simply changing the law, which is the job of lawmakers. Genuine amnesty is where a particular group of lawbreakers are pardoned for past violations which would otherwise be subject to prosecution.

  • Describing as amnesty the imposition of lesser sentences or punishments that are not "more than pardon
    Pardon
    Clemency means the forgiveness of a crime or the cancellation of the penalty associated with it. It is a general concept that encompasses several related procedures: pardoning, commutation, remission and reprieves...

    , inasmuch as it obliterates all legal remembrance of the offense".

  • Often wrongly or purposely used by politicians and/or journalists to denote cases of pardon where offenses are not stricken from the record and individuals proclaimed innocent. Instead, those individuals receive some lesser reprimand or sentence in response to an admission of guilt. Otherwise defined as an act of leniency but not amnesty, per se.