He was a candidate for President of the United States in 1968 on the ticket of the United States Peace and Freedom Party. During that year he was wounded in a shootout with police in Oakland, California. Faced with a murder charge he fled the country and lived for a time in Algeria, Cuba, and France. His book Soul on Ice was published in that year and contained essays he had written while in prison during his early years.
In 1975 Cleaver returned to face the charges against him. The murder charge was eventually dropped and he was placed on probation for assault.
By the end of his life Cleaver's political views had changed remarkably; he was a member of the Republican Party and styled himself as an anti-communist and born-again Christian. At one point he unsuccessfully ran for the Republican nomination for United States Senate from California.
In the 1990s Cleaver was convicted of cocaine possession and burglary.