On March 14, 1972, then-California Governor Ronald Reagan pardoned Merle Haggard. The singer, who had numerous run-ins with the law, served 3 years in San Quentin for a burglary for which he received a full pardon.
“They kept it under wraps,” Haggard told CMT in 2004. “There was some effort on my brother-in-law’s part, who was part of the Reagan team when he was on the West Coast, and my brother-in-law was friends with [Reagan adviser] Michael Deaver and people who were in a position to examine my case, and they found that I was improperly convicted and had no representation because I was poor and things of that nature, and … 12 Supreme Court judges and Ronald Reagan — the governor — found it right to pardon me. God, it meant everything.”
The pardon changed Haggard‘s entire life.
“Well, you can imagine yourself, you got this tail hanging on you, and suddenly you don’t have it anymore,” he said. “It’s just wonderful not to have to walk up and say, ‘Pardon me, before I do this, I want to tell you that I’m an ex-convict.’ You have to do that with any sort of legal transaction, with leaving the country, with anything of that nature. All those things went away when Ronald Reagan was kind enough to look at my case and give me a pardon.”
After the pardon, Haggard even had a chance to meet the would-be president.
“Yes, I played for the president when he was at his ranch in California,” he said. “He had a party on the ranch, and I played for him. I had a chance to thank him personally for the pardon and meet Nancy and have dinner with him. I sat on the right-hand chair next to the president, so I felt really honored. He treated me like royalty.”