Individuals who have been convicted of a crime in California may apply to the Governor for a pardon. A Pardon is only granted to individuals who have exhibited exemplary behavior following their conviction. Obtaining a pardon is based on proof of a useful, lawful, and productive life following their conviction. The governor has complete discretion to grant a pardon. Historically governors have granted very few pardons.
10 Year Rule
Applications generally will not be considered unless the applicant has been discharged from probation or parole for at least 10 years without further criminal activity during that period. There is no fee for applying for a pardon. The 10-year rule may be waived only in exceptional circumstances.
The first step in applying for a pardon is to obtain a Certificate of Rehabilitation from the Superior Court in the county where the applicant currently lives. People who live outside of California and people who are ineligible for a Certificate of Rehabilitation must use a direct pardon application.
Certificate of Rehabilitation
A Certificate of Rehabilitation is a court order declaring that a person convicted of a crime is now rehabilitated. Any person convicted of a felony who still resides in California may apply to the Superior Court in the county where they for a Certificate of Rehabilitation. There are special rules that apply to individuals convicted of sex offenses. Once a petition is filed, the court may require an investigation by the district attorney and will schedule a hearing. If the Court issues a Certificate of Rehabilitation, the certificate is forwarded to the Governor’s Office where it automatically becomes an application for a pardon. The Governor’s receipt of a Certificate of Rehabilitation does not guarantee that a pardon will be granted.
The direct pardon procedure is available to people who are ineligible for a Certificate of Rehabilitation. This procedure is used primarily by people who were convicted of a crime in California and now reside outside the state. The direct pardon procedure is also available to people who are not eligible for a Certificate of Rehabilitation because they have been convicted of specified sex offenses or misdemeanor offenses.
Direct Pardon Procedure
The applicant should first complete the Application for Executive Clemency. Then the applicant must send the Notice of Intent to Apply for Executive Clemency to the District Attorney of each county in which the applicant was convicted so that each District Attorney receives the legally‐required notice. The District Attorney acknowledges receipt of the Notice of Intent and returns the notice to the Governor’s Office. Finally, the applicant returns the completed application to the Governor’s Office.
Pardon Review Process
There is no requirement that the Governor take action on a pardon application. Once a Certificate of Rehabilitation or a completed direct pardon application is received by the Governor’s Office, the Office typically forwards the application to the Board of Parole Hearings (Board). The Board may conduct a background investigation and make a recommendation on whether a pardon should be granted. The Board may contact the District Attorney, investigating law enforcement agency, and other persons with relevant information on the applicant. If the applicant has been convicted of more than one felony, the California Supreme Court must recommend granting a pardon before the Governor may do so. However, there is no obligation that the Governor seek a recommendation from the Supreme Court.
Pardon Process timeline
The length of time needed to complete the pardon process cannot be predicted. Once a completed application has been received by the Governor’s Office, it is not necessary to contact the Governor’s Office to check on the status of an application. If the Governor takes action on an application, the applicant will be notified. Applicants should notify the Governor’s Office in writing if their mailing address changes.
Effect of a Pardon
A pardon does not seal your criminal record, and the pardon itself is a public record. When a pardon is granted, the California Department of Justice and the FBI are notified so that they can update their records. A pardon is usually obtained for personal satisfaction, licensing, bonding, and other employment purposes. A pardon does not seal or expunge the record of conviction (Penal Code 4852.17). If a person is subsequently convicted of a new offense, the prior conviction may be considered even after a pardon is granted. A person who has been pardoned can’t say that they have no record of arrests or convictions. The person can say that they were convicted and pardoned.
Restoration of Rights – Certificate of Rehabilitation
In California, the granting of a Certificate of Rehabilitation restores to the applicant some rights of citizenship that were forfeited as a result of a conviction.
Certificate of Rehabilitation Restoration of Rights:
- Relieve some sex offenders, as specified, of further duty to register (PC § 290.5)
- Enhance a felon’s potential for licensing consideration by a State board (PC § 4853)
- Serve as an official document to demonstrate a felon’s rehabilitation for employment
- Serve as an automatic application for a gubernatorial pardon
A certificate of Rehabilitation Does not:
- Erase the felony conviction or seal the criminal record (Pen. Code, § 4852.17)
- Prevent the offense from being used as a prior conviction if later convicted of a new offense
- Allow a felon to answer on employment applications that he/she has no record of conviction
- Give a felon the right to vote, because voting is automatically restored after parole discharge
- Restore the right to own or possess firearms
Restoration of Rights – Pardon
In California, the granting of a Governor’s pardon restores to the applicant some rights of citizenship that were forfeited as a result of a conviction.
Governor’s Pardon Restoration of Rights
- Allow a felon to serve on a jury trial (Code Civ. Proc., § 203 subd. (a)(5)).
- Allow restoration of firearms rights, upon federal approval, to specified offenders who have obtained a certificate of rehabilitation if granted a full and unconditional pardon, unless the conviction was for a felony involving the use of a dangerous weapon (Pen. Code, §4852.17).
- Allow a felon to be considered for appointment as a county probation officer or a state parole agent, but not to any other peace officer positions (Gov. Code, § 1029, subd. (c)).
- Allow specified sex offenders still required to register after obtaining a Certificate of Rehabilitation to be relieved of their duty to register if granted a full and unconditional pardon (Pen. Code, § 290.5).
Governor’s Pardon does not:
- Seal or erase the record of conviction (Pen. Code, § 4852.17).
- Prevent the pardoned offense from being considered as a prior conviction if the person is later convicted of a new offense.
- Allow a pardoned person to answer on employment applications that he/she has no record of conviction.
- Restore ability to own a firearm to felons convicted of any offense involving the use of a dangerous weapon (Pen. Code, § 4854).
- Pardon convictions from another state, or federal convictions.
- Necessarily prevent deportation