This article was originally published on 2017, but we’ve been updating the data every year. On this version, is updated until 31st December 2020.

Analysis by type of crime

In every list of royal decrees of pardons published in the Official Gazette, pardons of crimes against public health stand out among the rest. In total, of the 10,702 pardoned offenders since 1996, 3,054 have received pardons for this crime. Many judges use these pardons to mitigate overly severe sentences for common public health offences like petty drug dealing. Closely following pardons for crimes against public health are pardons for robberies (2,072 pardons in the dates included in El indultómetro). Don’t be fooled by these two absolute statistics: crimes against public health and robberies are the two most common crimes in the annual list of offenses.

If these numbers are deceptive, then what are the most pardoned crimes? Crimes against the environment, crimes against individual freedoms involving public officials, insolvency, perversion of justice and embezzlement of public funds (see methodology) make up the highest percentages of pardons for convictions. Three of the five crimes involve public officials or theft of public money.

Between 2007 and 2018 (see methodology), judges found 85 civil servants guilty of crimes committed against individual freedoms. The government has pardoned three of these officials so far. The aforementioned cases include illegally lengthening sentences to imprisonment or solitary confinement and the use of unnecessary force with prisoners on the part of prison guards or juvenile detention centre employees, all of which are outlined in the Penal Code. Three out of 85 cases, or 3.53%, may seem not relevant due to the low number of cases, but let’s take a look at a more common crime, embezzlement of public funds: seven out of the 863 convictions in the eleven years analysed have received pardons, a 0.81%.

Top 10 categories of crimes with the largest ratio of pardons to convictions according to the penal code for the period 2007-2018

Another category with a larger percentage of pardoned offences is perversion of justice (when a public official issues a resolution or names someone to public office in an deliberately arbitrary manner). Twelve of the 824 public officials convicted between 2007 and 2018 have so far received pardons, 1.46%.

During the past few years, a total of 654 people were convicted of crimes against natural resources and the environment. So far, 21 of them, 3.21%, have received pardons. This crime involves provoking or creating emissions, waste, radiation, extraction or noise that could “cause grave harm to the equilibrium of natural systems.”

All of these crimes received pardons at a percentage exceeding the 0.50% (750 pardons out of 148,573 convictions) of pardoned crimes against public health. In especially noteworthy cases, like those of torture, we find much lower, but still significant, rates: 22 of the 45,483 individuals convicted of torture between 2007 and 2018 had received pardons by the publish date of this article (0.05%).

Along with crimes against the environment and insolvency, crimes committed by public officials have received pardons at a higher rate than pardons for any other crime. Pardoning public officials is the way in which the government, wielding executive power, pardons itself for its own offences.

Analysis by gender

Another example of the differences between absolute and relative terms: men benefit from more pardons than women (1,285 to 395, respectively, in those twelve years) because they also make up the majority of offenders (2,375,494 men to 376,541 women). In proportion, however, the government more frequently pardons women than men (10.5 out of every 10,000 female offenders versus 5.4 out of every 10,000 male offenders).

The visualization buttons allow you to change the view between absolute values and relative values, showing by default the distribution of pardons in absolute terms during 2007-2018


Why did we analyse pardons specifically between 2007 and 2018? What was our methodology? To conduct the data analysis, we used two sources: the pardons granted until 31st December 2020, published in the Official Gazette, and the statistics of convictions reported in the [Spanish National Institute of Statistics][] (INE). The latter experienced an important variation in 2007, when the form of collecting information was modified. Prior to 2007, the INE gathered data every three months through a paper bulletin created by the judicial branch. Therefore we analysed the data starting in 2007, just after the change in the system occurred.

But why did we stop at 2018? The average waiting time between conviction and pardon in all of the pardons in El indultómetro is around three years. The analysis period of the investigation began in 2007, due to the changes with the INE data, and ended in 2018.

In the case of pardons, we took as a reference the sentence date in the tribunal indicated in each ruling in the Official Gazette.