Currently, one can visit a web page at Salon (here) where an Emily Yoffe cites unnamed "legal scholars" who, at the time, could only name two fugitives "in recent history" who received presidential pardons. Of course, in the world of journalism, "recent history" is often code for "I do now know history" (see commentary here). As a result, Yoffe writes, "Individual pardons of fugitives are almost unheard of." While it is always hard to dispute an anonymous person's sense of "recent history," the fact of the matter is that the history of federal executive clemency (from 1789 to 2008) is littered well enough individual pardons that were granted to fugitives from justice. Put another way: where we have useful data, we find pardons of fugitives.
Need bookends? In 1799, John Adams pardoned a ringleader of the Whiskey Rebellion, David Bradford, who was indicted for treason and fled to Spanish Louisiana. In 2000, Bill Clinton granted a pardon to the fugitive Preston King, who went to England being convicted for draft evasion. And, yes, then there Marc Rich. But, in a 2001 professional paper, I observed:
In preparation for my forthcoming book, I scanned the Annual Report of the Attorney General over a twenty-five year period (1907 to 1932) with the specific goal of finding pardons that were given to “fugitives from justice.” Even though my approach was somewhat casual (essentially a lot of fast eyeballing of very, very small print), I found a dozen such instances. A one-every-other-year estimate for the period must certainly be low, or conservative, as I may very well have overlooked some relevant cases and, in some instances, the Report may simply not have mentioned the “fugitive” status of clemency recipients. Of the twelve fugitives I quickly identified, eight had escaped from prison and four fled either before their crimes were detected or during the appellate process (and they were presumably out on bond).As I would later conclude, pardons for fugitives are not the "norm," but they are far from the most radical or freakish events in the world of clemency decision making.
Was 1932 a long time ago? You betcha. But the Annual Report of the Attorney General stopped reporting individual acts of clemency in 1933. Thus, our inability to generalize about pardons of fugitives is more due to a lack of data than it is any particular reason to think such activity just stopped instantly, in 1933, and became "almost unheard of" since.