Whether you're trying to secure employment, regain your right to carry a gun, get relieved of a duty to register as a sex offender.or just looking for personal satisfaction, a California Governor's Pardon can help.
What better way to tell the world your life is back on track?
Our California Criminal Defense Lawyers can help. We know the most effective ways to secure a Governor's Pardon.
We're former cops and prosecutors who now represent people accused of crimes. We also help people with legal processes like obtaining a Governor's Pardon.1
This article provides an introduction to the concept of Governor's Pardon in California. If you would like more information after reading this article, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group for a consultation.
This article covers:
You may also find helpful information in our related articles Penal Code 1203.4 California's Expungement Process; Certificate of Rehabilitation; California Parole Laws; California Probation Laws; Sealing and Destroying Arrest Records; Penal Code 290 Sex Offender Registration; California Sex Crimes; Penal Code 29800 PC California's Felon with a Firearm Law; and Immigration Issues -- Deportation and Removal.
A California Governor's Pardon is the ultimate relief from the penalties and disabilities associated with a criminal conviction.2 It is an honor and a privilege that is reserved for those who have demonstrated exemplary behavior following a criminal conviction.
A Pardon does not expunge a criminal conviction. Expungements are addressed under a separate process pursuant to Penal Code 1203.4 PC California's expungement laws. Nor does a Pardon seal and destroy your criminal arrest records.3
What it does, however, is send a very powerful message to society that you have led a useful, productive and law-abiding life following your conviction.
According to the Office of the California Governor, most people who pursue Governor's Pardons do so either for personal satisfaction or for professional licensing, bonding or other employment purposes.
Simply put, a California Governor's Pardon restores many of the rights of citizenship that someone loses through criminal conviction. These include
- the right to own or possess firearms unless you were convicted of an offense that involved a dangerous weapon4 (absent a pardon, Penal Code 29800 PC California's "felon with a firearm" law imposes a lifetime ban on owning or possessing guns by people who have been convicted of (1) any felony, or (2) a variety of specific misdemeanor offenses),5
- relief from your lifetime duty to register as a sex offender pursuant to Penal Code 290 PC,6
- the right to serve on a California jury trial,7
- the right to be employed as a county probation officer or a state parole agent (but not as any other type of peace officer),8
- the right to apply for state licensing without automatically being denied a license, and9
- protection against having your pardoned conviction being used to impeach your credibility as a witness.10
Note: You do not need a Governor's Pardon to reclaim your right to vote. The right to vote is automatically restored to a felon once he/she is released from prison and successfully discharged from California parole.11
What California Governor's Pardon does NOT do
A Governor's Pardon does not provide complete relief from all legal penalties and disabilities. Here are some limitations and restrictions:
- Because a Governor's Pardon doesn't seal or destroy your criminal arrest record, you must still report your criminal arrests and convictions when asked if you suffer from any arrests or convictions. You can, however, state that you have since been pardoned.12
- If you are pardoned.and are subsequently convicted of another offense.then your pardoned conviction may still be used against you to impeach your credibility, justify an increased sentence, or function in any other way where a prior conviction is relevant to a pending case.13
- A California Governor cannot Pardon a conviction that you suffered in another state or in federal court.14
- A Governor's Pardon doesn't necessarily avoid or prevent immigration issues such as deportation or removal.15
You are eligible to receive a California Governor's Pardon if you have been convicted of any California crime.
There are primarily two classes of people who desire a Governor's Pardon.
The first is those who have been convicted of either a California felony offense or of certain misdemeanor California sex crimes. These individuals are also eligible to receive a Certificate of Rehabilitation. When granted, this Certificate acts as an automatic application for a Governor's Pardon.
The second group consists of people who are ineligible to receive a Certificate of Rehabilitation. These include persons who
- were convicted of California felonies (but who no longer reside in this state),
- were convicted of certain California sex crimes, including
- Penal Code 286(c) sodomy with a minor,
- Penal Code 288 lewd acts with a minor (a.k.a. child molestation),
- Penal Code 288a(c) oral copulation with a minor,
- Penal Code 288.5 continuous sexual abuse of a child, or
- Penal Code 289(j) forcible acts of sexual penetration with a child,
- were convicted of misdemeanors,
- are serving a mandatory life parole, and
- have been sentenced to death.16
The Governor will not typically review Pardon applications until you have been discharged from probation or parole for at least ten years and have remained free from criminal involvement during that entire time.17
That said, the Governor may consider applications earlier under rare and compelling circumstances. This may be the case if, for example, you obtained a ruling of factual innocence which resulted in your criminal arrest records being sealed and destroyed. For more information on factual innocence and destroying criminal records, please review our article on Sealing and Destroying criminal arrest records.
There is no fee to apply for a Pardon, and you may represent yourself throughout the application process. However, there are a number of complex issues that oftentimes render this an unwise choice.
As Rancho Cucamonga criminal defense attorney Michael Scafiddi18 explains, "Unless you have been twice convicted of any felony, the Governor has complete discretion in determining whether or not to grant a Pardon.19 It therefore makes sense to consult with an experienced attorney who knows the most effective strategies to help you secure this most desirable relief."
The two types of applications: (1) Via Certificate of Rehabilitation and (2) Direct Applications
There are two ways to apply for a California Governor's Pardon: (1) via a Certificate of Rehabilitation (the more common way), or (2) by direct application.
1. By Way of a Certificate of Rehabilitation
When you receive a California Certificate of Rehabilitation, the court automatically forwards your case to the Governor's office as an application for a Pardon. Loosely stated, you are eligible to obtain a Certificate if
- you were convicted of a felony (or a Penal Code 290 PC misdemeanor sex crime which was expunged),
- you were released from custody, California probation, or California parole and have remained free from incarceration for a requisite period of time, and
- you have been a California resident for at least three-to-five years immediately prior to filing for the Certificate.20
Once granted, a Certificate of Rehabilitation serves as a California Superior Court endorsement for your character. It is the court saying that you have been rehabilitated.
If you are not eligible for a Certificate, you may still apply directly to the Governor's office for a Pardon.
2. Direct Application for a Governor's Pardon
California Penal Code sections 4800-4813 PC address the procedures used when applying for a "traditional" Governor's Pardon.
In order to apply for a traditional Governor's Pardon, you must submit your application directly to the Governor's Office. However, you must first send a "Notice of Intention to Apply for a Traditional Pardon" to the District Attorney of each county in which you have been convicted of a felony at least ten (10) days prior to filing your application.21
Once your application is received, the Governor may forward it to the Board of Parole Hearings for their review and recommendation.22
Information that you must include in your application includes
- your personal identifying information,
- specific information about your criminal history,
- your rehabilitation efforts while incarcerated and following your release,
- your disciplinary record while in jail / prison and while on probation / parole, and
- why you are requesting a Pardon.
Call us for help.
For questions about California Governor's Pardons, or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our California criminal defense attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
We have local criminal law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.
Additionally, our Las Vegas Nevada criminal defense attorneys are available to answer any questions relating to Nevada's expungement laws. For more information, we invite you to contact our local attorneys at one of our Nevada law offices, located in Reno and Las Vegas.23
For more information about Nevada pardons, go to our informational webpage on Nevada pardons.
Application for California Governor's Pardon -- includes the District Attorney's "Notice of Intention to Apply for a Traditional Pardon"
1Our California criminal defense attorneys have local Los Angeles law offices in Beverly Hills, Burbank, Glendale, Lancaster, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Pomona, Torrance, Van Nuys, West Covina, and Whittier. We have additional law offices conveniently located throughout the state in Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.
2California Penal Code 4852.17 PC -- Report of California certificate of rehabilitation or pardon; rights restored by pardon; exceptions. ("Whenever a person is granted a full and unconditional pardon by the Governor, based upon a certificate of rehabilitation, the [California Governor's] pardon shall entitle the person to exercise thereafter all civil and political rights of citizenship, including but not limited to: (1) the right to vote; (2) the right to own, possess, and keep any type of firearm that may lawfully be owned and possessed by other citizens; except that this right shall not be restored, and Sections 12001 and 29800 shall apply, if the person was ever convicted of a felony involving the use of a dangerous weapon.")
See also California Penal Code 4853 PC -- Restoration of rights, privileges and franchises; exceptions. ("In all cases in which a full pardon has been granted by the Governor of this state or will hereafter be granted by the Governor to a person convicted of an offense to which the pardon applies, it shall operate to restore to the convicted person, all the rights, privileges, and franchises of which he or she has been deprived in consequence of that conviction or by reason of any matter involved therein; provided, that nothing herein contained shall abridge or impair the power or authority conferred by law on any board or tribunal to revoke or suspend any right, privilege or franchise for any act or omission not involved in the conviction; provided further, that nothing in this article shall affect any of the provisions of the Medical Practice Act (Chapter 5 (commencing with Section 2000) of Division 2 of the Business and Professions Code) or the power or authority conferred by law on the Board of Medical Examiners therein, or the power or authority conferred by law upon any board that issues a certificate which permits any person or persons to apply his or her or their art or profession on the person of another.")
3California Penal Code 4852.17 PC, endnote 2, above. ("Whenever a person is issued a certificate of rehabilitation or granted a pardon from the Governor under this chapter, the fact shall be immediately reported to the Department of Justice by the court, Governor, officer, or governmental agency by whose official action the certificate is issued or the pardon granted. The Department of Justice shall immediately record the facts so reported on the former criminal record of the person, and transmit those facts to the Federal Bureau of Investigation at Washington, D.C. When the criminal record is thereafter reported by the department, it shall also report the fact [italics added] that the person has received a certificate of rehabilitation, or [California Governor's] pardon, or both.")
4California Penal Code 4854 PC -- Firearms; restoration of rights; exceptions. ("In the granting of a pardon to a person, the Governor may provide that the person is entitled to exercise the right to own, possess and keep any type of firearm that may lawfully be owned and possessed by other citizens; except that this right shall not be restored, and Sections 12001 and 29800 shall apply, if the person was ever convicted of a felony involving the use of a dangerous weapon.")
5Penal Code 29800 PC California's "felon with a firearm" law. ("(a)(1) Any person who has been convicted of a felony under the laws of the United States, the State of California, or any other state, government, or country or of an offense enumerated in subdivision (a), (b), or (d) of Section 12001.6, or who is addicted to the use of any narcotic drug, and who owns, purchases, receives, or has in his or her possession or under his or her custody or control any firearm is guilty of a felony. (2) Any person who has two or more convictions for violating paragraph (2) of subdivision (a) of Section 417 and who owns, purchases, receives, or has in his or her possession or under his or her custody or control any firearm is guilty of a felony. (b) Notwithstanding subdivision (a), any person who has been convicted of a felony or of an offense enumerated in Section 12001.6, when that conviction results from certification by the juvenile court for prosecution as an adult in an adult court under Section 707 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, and who owns or has in his or her possession or under his or her custody or control any firearm is guilty of a felony. (c)(1) Except as provided in subdivision (a) or paragraph (2) of this subdivision, any person who has been convicted of a misdemeanor violation of Section 71, 76, 136.1, 136.5, or 140, subdivision (d) of Section 148, Section 171b, 171c, 171d, 186.28, 240, 241, 242, 243, 243.4, 244.5, 245, 245.5, 246.3, 247, 273.5, 273.6, 417, 417.6, 422, 626.9, 646.9, 12023, or 12024, subdivision (b) or (d) of Section 26100, Section 12040, subdivision (b) of Section 12072, subdivision (a) of former Section 12100, Section 12220, 12320, or 12590, or Section 8100, 8101, or 8103 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, any firearm-related offense pursuant to Sections 871.5 and 1001.5 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, or of the conduct punished in paragraph (3) of subdivision (g) of Section 12072, and who, within 10 years of the conviction, owns, purchases, receives, or has in his or her possession or under his or her custody or control, any firearm is guilty of a public offense, which shall be punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year or in the state prison, by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that imprisonment and fine. The court, on forms prescribed by the Department of Justice, shall notify the department of persons subject to this subdivision. However, the prohibition in this paragraph may be reduced, eliminated, or conditioned as provided in paragraph (2) or (3).")
6California Penal Code 290.5 PC -- Pardon or certificate of rehabilitation; relief from duty to register. ("(b)(1) Except as provided in paragraphs (2) and (3), a person described in paragraph (2) of subdivision (a) shall not be relieved of the duty to register until that person has obtained a full [California Governor's] pardon as provided in Chapter 1 (commencing with Section 4800) or Chapter 3 (commencing with Section 4850) of Title 6 of Part 3.")
7California Civil Code of Procedure 203 -- Persons qualified to be trial jurors; exceptions. ("(a) All persons are eligible and qualified to be prospective trial jurors [and to sit as a juror during a California jury trial], except the following.(5) Persons who have been convicted of malfeasance in office or a felony, and whose civil rights have not been restored.")
8California Government Code 1029 -- Conviction of crime as disqualification for peace officer; felonies; guilty pleas. ("(a) Except as provided in subdivision (b), (c), or (d), each of the following persons is disqualified from holding office as a peace officer or being employed as a peace officer of the state, county, city, city and county or other political subdivision, whether with or without compensation, and is disqualified from any office or employment by the state, county, city, city and county or other political subdivision, whether with or without compensation, which confers upon the holder or employee the powers and duties of a peace officer.(c) Any person who has been convicted of a felony, other than a felony punishable by death, in this state or any other state, or who has been convicted of any offense in any other state which would have been a felony, other than a felony punishable by death, if committed in this state, and who demonstrates the ability to assist persons in programs of rehabilitation may hold office and be employed as a parole officer of the Department of Corrections or the Department of the Youth Authority, or as a probation officer in a county probation department, if he or she has been granted a full and unconditional [California Governor's] pardon for the felony or offense of which he or she was convicted. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Department of Corrections or the Department of the Youth Authority, or a county probation department, may refuse to employ that person regardless of his or her qualifications.")
9California Business and Professions Code 480 PC -- Acts disqualifying applicant. ("(b) Notwithstanding any other provision of this code, no person shall be denied a license solely on the basis that he or she has been convicted of a felony if he or she has obtained a certificate of rehabilitation under Chapter 3.5 (commencing with Section 4852.01) of Title 6 of Part 3 of the Penal Code or that he or she has been convicted of a misdemeanor if he or she has met all applicable requirements of the criteria of rehabilitation developed by the board to evaluate the rehabilitation of a person when considering the denial of a license under subdivision (a) of Section 482.") It therefore stands to reason that if your California Governor's Pardon is based on a Certificate of Rehabilitation, this same rule applies.
However, see also California Penal Code 4853 PC, endnote 2, above. ("In all cases in which a full pardon has been granted by the Governor of this state or will hereafter be granted by the Governor to a person convicted of an offense to which the pardon applies, it shall operate to restore to the convicted person, all the rights, privileges, and franchises of which he or she has been deprived in consequence of that conviction or by reason of any matter involved therein; provided, that nothing herein contained shall abridge or impair the power or authority conferred by law on any board or tribunal to revoke or suspend any right, privilege or franchise for any act or omission not involved in the conviction; provided further, that nothing in this article shall affect any of the provisions of the Medical Practice Act (Chapter 5 (commencing with Section 2000) of Division 2 of the Business and Professions Code) or the power or authority conferred by law on the Board of Medical Examiners therein, or the power or authority conferred by law upon any board that issues a certificate which permits any person or persons to apply his or her or their art or profession on the person of another.")
10California Evidence Code 788 -- Prior felony conviction. ("For the purpose of attacking the credibility of a witness, it may be shown by the examination of the witness or by the record of the judgment that he has been convicted of a felony unless: (a) A pardon based on his innocence has been granted to the witness by the jurisdiction in which he was convicted. (b) A certificate of rehabilitation and pardon has been granted to the witness under the provisions of Chapter 3.5 (commencing with Section 4852.01) of Title 6 of Part 3 of the Penal Code.")
11California Constitution Article II, Section 4. ("Improper practices; certain persons as electors; prohibition. ("Sec. 4. The Legislature shall prohibit improper practices that affect elections and shall provide for the disqualification of electors while mentally incompetent or imprisoned or on parole for the conviction of a felony.")
See also California Elections Code 2101 -- Entitlement; prerequisites. ("A person entitled to register to vote shall be a United States citizen, a resident of California, not in prison or on parole for the conviction of a felony, and at least 18 years of age at the time of the next election.")
12See California Penal Code 4852.17 PC, endnote 2, above.
See also How to Apply for a Pardon, State of California, Office of the Governor. ("A pardon does not seal or expunge the record of the conviction. (Penal Code sec. 4852.17.) If the person is subsequently convicted of a new offense, the prior conviction may be considered even after a pardon has been granted. A person who has been pardoned cannot say that he or she has no record of arrests or convictions. The person can, however, say that he or she has been convicted and pardoned.")
14See same. ("The Governor of California cannot grant a pardon for a conviction suffered in another jurisdiction, such as another state or a federal proceeding. A person convicted in another state must apply for a pardon in that state. Federal pardon information can be obtained from the Pardon Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice, 500 First Street Northwest, Washington, D.C. 20530.")
15See same re "Quick reference for restoration of rights section" where it states that a California Governor's Pardon does not "necessarily prevent deportation".
16California Penal Code 4852.01 PC -- California Certificate of Rehabilitation. ("(d) This chapter shall not apply to persons serving a mandatory life parole, persons committed under death sentences, persons convicted of a violation of subdivision (c) of Section 286 [sodomy with a minor], Section 288 [lewd acts with a minor (a.k.a. child molestation)], subdivision (c) of Section 288a [oral copulation with a minor], Section 288.5, or subdivision (j) of Section 289, or persons in the military service. (e) Notwithstanding the above provisions or any other provision of law, the Governor shall have the right to pardon a person [pursuant to a California Governor's Pardon] convicted of a violation of subdivision (c) of Section 286, Section 288, subdivision (c) of Section 288a, Section 288.5, or subdivision (j) of Section 289, if there are extraordinary circumstances.")
17How to Apply for a Pardon, State of California, Office of the Governor, endnote 12, above. ("Absent extraordinary and compelling circumstances, an application 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. The 10-year rule may be waived in truly exceptional circumstances (for example, factual innocence), if the applicant can demonstrate such circumstances warranting a specific need for the pardon.")
18Rancho Cucamonga criminal defense attorney Michael Scafiddi uses his former experience as an Ontario Police Officer to represent clients in San Bernardino, Riverside, Banning, Fontana, Joshua Tree, Barstow and Victorville.
19People v. Ansell (2001) 25 Cal.4th 868, 891. ("However, regardless of which statutory application procedure is used, and notwithstanding any recommendation by the superior court, the pardon decision is discretionary, and rests ultimately with the Governor.")
See also California Penal Code 4800 PC -- Constitutional authority. ("The general authority to grant reprieves, pardons and commutations of sentence is conferred upon the Governor by Section 8 of Article V of the Constitution of the State of California.")
See also California Constitution, Article V, Section 8. ("SEC. 8. (a) Subject to application procedures provided by statute, the Governor, on conditions the Governor deems proper, may grant a reprieve, [California Governor's] pardon, and commutation, after sentence, except in case of impeachment. The Governor shall report to the Legislature each reprieve, pardon, and commutation granted, stating the pertinent facts and the reasons for granting it. The Governor may not grant a pardon or commutation to a person twice convicted of a felony except on recommendation of the Supreme Court, 4 judges concurring.")
See also California Penal Code 4802 PC -- Application of second offender; reference. ("In the case of a person twice convicted of felony, the application for pardon or commutation of sentence shall be made directly to the Governor, who shall transmit all papers and documents relied upon in support of and in opposition to the application to the Board of Prison Terms.")
See also California Penal Code 4813 PC -- Applications of second offenders; recommendation; transmittal of papers. ("In the case of applications of persons twice convicted of a felony, the Board of Prison Terms, after investigation, shall transmit its written recommendation upon such application to the Governor, together with all papers filed in connection with the application.")
20California Penal Code 4852.01 PC, endnote 16, above. ("(a) Any person convicted of a felony who has been released from a state prison or other state penal institution or agency in California, whether discharged on completion of the term for which he or she was sentenced or released on parole prior to May 13, 1943, who has not been incarcerated in a state prison or other state penal institution or agency since his or her release and who presents satisfactory evidence of a three-year residence in this state immediately prior to the filing of the petition for a certificate of rehabilitation and pardon provided for by this chapter, may file the petition pursuant to the provisions of this chapter. (b) Any person convicted of a felony who, on May 13, 1943, was confined in a state prison or other institution or agency to which he or she was committed and any person convicted of a felony after that date who is committed to a state prison or other institution or agency may file a petition for a certificate of rehabilitation and pardon pursuant to the provisions of this chapter.")
See also California Penal Code 4852.06 PC -- Petition for ascertainment and declaration of rehabilitation and for certificate; time for filing. ("Except as provided in subdivision (a) of Section 4852.01, after the expiration of the minimum period of rehabilitation applicable to him or her (and, in the case of persons released upon parole or probation, after the termination of parole or probation), each person who has complied with the requirements of Section 4852.05 may file in the superior court of the county in which he or she then resides a petition for ascertainment and declaration of the fact of his or her rehabilitation and of matters incident thereto, and for a certificate of rehabilitation under this chapter. No petition shall be filed until and unless the petitioner has continuously resided in this state, after leaving prison, for a period of not less than five years immediately preceding the date of filing the petition.")
See also California Penal Code 4852.01 PC, endnote 16, above. ("(c) Any person convicted of a felony or any person who is convicted of a misdemeanor violation of any sex offense specified in Section 290, the accusatory pleading of which has been dismissed pursuant to Section 1203.4, may file a petition for certificate of rehabilitation and [California Governor's] pardon pursuant to the provisions of this chapter if the petitioner has not been incarcerated in any prison, jail, detention facility, or other penal institution or agency since the dismissal of the accusatory pleading and is not on probation for the commission of any other felony, and the petitioner presents satisfactory evidence of five years residence in this state prior to the filing of the petition.")
21California Penal Code 4804 PC -- Notice to district attorney of application; proof of service. ("At least 10 days before the Governor acts upon an application for a pardon, written notice of the intention to apply therefor, signed by the person applying, must be served upon the district attorney of the county where the conviction was had, and proof, by affidavit, of the service must be presented to the Governor.")
However, see California Penal Code 4806 PC -- Notice of application dispensed with; circumstances. ("The provisions of Section 4804 are not applicable: 1. When there is imminent danger of the death of the person convicted or imprisoned; 2. When the term of imprisonment of the applicant is within 10 days of its expiration.")
22California Penal Code 4812 PC -- Applications; investigation, report and recommendations; assistants; examination of witnesses; administration of oaths. ("Upon request of the Governor the Board of Prison Terms shall investigate and report on all applications for reprieves, [California Governor's] pardons and commutation of sentence and shall make such recommendations to the Governor with reference thereto as to it may seem advisable. To that end the board shall examine and consider all applications so referred and all transcripts of judicial proceedings and all affidavits or other documents submitted in connection therewith, and shall have power to employ assistants and take testimony and to examine witnesses under oath and to do any and all things necessary to make a full and complete investigation of and concerning all applications referred to it. Members of the board and its administrative officer are, and each of them is, hereby authorized to administer oaths.")
23Please feel free to contact our Las Vegas Nevada criminal defense attorneys Michael Becker and Mike Castillo for any questions relating to Nevada's expungement laws. Our Nevada law offices are located in Reno and Las Vegas.