amnesty ăm´nəstē [key], in law, exemption from prosecution for criminal action. It signifies forgiveness and the forgetting of past actions. Amnesties are usually extended to a group of persons during a period of prolonged disorder or insurrection. The criminals are offered a promise of immunity from prosecution if they will abandon their unlawful activities. After a revolution or civil war the victorious side will often extend amnesty to the losers; e.g., the United States granted a qualified amnesty to the Confederate forces after the Civil War. An amnesty is distinguished from a pardon, which is an act of forgiveness after the criminal has already been convicted.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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