If you have a criminal conviction on your record, a California governor's pardon may help you
- secure employment,
- obtain relief from your lifetime duty to register as a sex offender under Penal Code 290 PC,1
- regain your Second Amendment Right to bear arms,2
- regain your right to serve on a California jury,3 or
- simply obtain the personal satisfaction of knowing that your efforts to turn your life around have been acknowledged.
In the majority of cases, people pursue an application for a California governor's pardon immediately after obtaining a California certificate of rehabilitation.4
Example: When she is 21, Mary steals some valuable antique guns and is convicted of Penal Code 487 PC grand theft, a felony in California law.5 She is sentenced to two years in state prison. After completing her sentence, she enrolls in college to get her nursing degree and does not commit any more crimes.
Ten years later, Mary has a stable family and a career as a nurse. But her felony conviction prevents her from find a job in certain settings, like schools.
Also, she is unable to own a gun without violating California's “felon with a firearm” law.6 This is a real hardship for her because she loves to hunt.
So Mary applies for a certificate of rehabilitation. Her application is granted—and this leads to an automatic application for a governor's pardon. Once the pardon is granted, she has an easier time finding jobs, and she is able to own guns again.
In order to help you better understand the process and significance of a California governor's pardon, our California criminal defense attorneys7 will address the following:
If, after reading this article, you would like more information, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
You may also find helpful information in our related articles on The Lifetime Duty to Register As a Sex Offender Under Penal Code 290 PC; California Jury Trials; How to Apply for a California Certificate of Rehabilitation; Penal Code 487 PC Grand Theft; Legal Definition of a Felony in California Law; California's “Felon with a Firearm” Law Penal Code 29800 PC; How Arrests and Convictions Affect State Professional Licensing in California; Penal Code 314 PC Indecent Exposure; The Legal Definition of a Misdemeanor in California Law; How to Get Off California's Megan's Law (Sex Offender) Website; Explanation of California Parole Law; How to Seal and Destroy Your Criminal Arrest Record Penal Code 851.8 PC; The Immigration Consequences of a Criminal Conviction in California; The California Crime of Forgery; Inadmissible Crimes in California; Penal Code 1203.4 PC Expungements; and California Sex Crimes.
A California governor's pardon provides significant relief from the penalties and disabilities associated with a criminal conviction.8
It is an honor and a privilege that is reserved for those who have demonstrated exemplary behavior following a criminal conviction – and it is an important enough concept to be discussed in the California Constitution.9
Traditionally, a governor's pardon has been a fairly rare event.10 But California Governor Jerry Brown has made pardons more common in recent years—granting nearly 150 pardons in the year 2011 alone.11 If you have lived a law-abiding life since your criminal sentence, this path may be open to you.
Simply put, a California Governor's Pardon restores many of the personal, civil, and political rights of citizenship that you lost at the time you suffered your criminal conviction. These include:
- the right to own or possess firearms—unless you were convicted of an offense that involved a dangerous weapon,12
- relief from the lifetime duty to register as a sex offender under Penal Code 290 PC,13
- the right to serve on a jury in a California jury trial,14
- the right to be employed as a county probation officer or a state parole officer,15 and
- the right to apply for state professional licensing without automatically being denied a license.16
Example: Paul is convicted of Penal Code 314 PC indecent exposure, a California misdemeanor, and serves 6 months in county jail.17 After his release, he gets counseling, resumes his professional career, and lives a law-abiding life.
But Paul's indecent exposure conviction still requires him to register as a sex offender under Penal Code 290 PC.18 This requirement is a terrible burden for him. So he looks for ways to get off California's Megan's law (sex offender) website. He applies for a governor's pardon with the help of a criminal defense lawyer—since that will relieve him of the duty to register and will get his information off the public website.
Some people believe that you need a governor's pardon to regain your right to vote after being convicted of a felony—but this is not true. The right to vote is automatically restored to a felon once s/he is released from prison and successfully discharged from California parole.19
It is also important to understand what a governor's pardon in California can not accomplish for you.
First, a governor's pardon doesn't seal or destroy your criminal arrest record.20 So you must still report your criminal arrests and convictions when asked if you have a criminal record. But you can—and should—also state that you have been pardoned.21 This sends a very powerful message that you have led a productive and law-abiding life following your conviction.
Second, even though you can work as a parole or probation officer after receiving a pardon for a felony conviction—you still cannot work as any other kind of peace officer.22
Third, if you are arrested and charged with another offense after receiving a governor's pardon, the pardoned conviction may still be used against you to impeach your credibility, justify an increased sentence, etc.23
Finally, a California governor's pardon won't necessarily help you avoid the immigration consequences of a criminal conviction, such as deportation or inadmissibility.24
Example : Mikhail is from Russia and is living in the U.S. on a work visa. As part of a criminal scheme hatched by his boss, he participates in and is convicted of the California crime of forgery as a felony. After serving his time in prison, Mikhail gets another job and lives a law-abiding life for over a decade.
Eventually Mikhail applies for—and receives—both a Certificate of Rehabilitation and a California governor's pardon. But California forgery is a crime of moral turpitude, which makes it an inadmissible crime under federal immigration law. Thus, even though Mikhail has been pardoned for his forgery conviction, he still may be unable to receive a green card.
The good news is that anyone who has been convicted of any California crime may receive a governor's pardon—at least in theory.25
In practice, pardons are usually only granted to people who
- completed their probation or parole at least ten (10) years ago, and
- have not engaged in any criminal activity in that 10-year period.26
Also, it is important to note that a California governor's pardon may only be granted for a California criminal conviction. The California governor can't grant you a pardon for a federal conviction, or a conviction from another state—even if you are a California resident.27
Finally, the process of applying for a pardon is a bit different for people who have been convicted of two (2) or more felonies. You may still receive a pardon with multiple felonies on your record—BUT the California Supreme Court is required to review your case and recommend to the governor that you be pardoned.28
There are two main ways of applying for a California governor's pardon—with an application for a California Certificate of Rehabilitation, and without an application for a Certificate of Rehabilitation.
The majority of applicants for a governor's pardon will first apply for a California Certificate of Rehabilitation.29
You may be eligible to apply for a Certificate of Rehabilitation if:
- You were convicted of either
- a California felony, or
- a misdemeanor sex crime for which sex offender registration is required under Penal Code 290 PC, AND for which you have obtained a Penal Code 1203.4 PC expungement,
- You were released from prison or probation/parole, and have remained free from incarceration for a specified amount of time, AND
- You have been a California resident for at least five (5) years prior to your application for a Certificate of Rehabilitation.30
There are certain felony convictions, however, for which you cannot receive a Certificate of Rehabilitation.31 We discuss these in Section 3.2 below.
The application for a Certificate of Rehabilitation is made to the California Superior Court, not the governor's office.32
If the court decides to grant you a Certificate of Rehabilitation, this will serve an automatic application for a governor's pardon. The court will forward your information to the governor's office—and the Certificate will be treated as a recommendation that you be granted a pardon.33
Certain people will not be eligible to apply for a California Certificate of Rehabilitation. This will be the case for you if you
- No longer reside in California,
- 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 a misdemeanor for which sex offender registration is not required,
- Are serving a mandatory life parole, or
- Have been sentenced to death.34
If any of these situations apply to you, you may apply directly for a California gubernatorial pardon.35 The application for a pardon is formally known as an “Application for Executive Clemency.”36
Before you submit your application to the governor's office, you must send a “Notice of Intent to Apply for Executive Clemency” to the District Attorney of each California county in which you have been convicted of a felony.37
After that, you may submit your Application for Executive Clemency to the Office of the California Governor.
Once your application is received, the Governor may forward it to the Board of Parole Hearings for their review and recommendation.38 And if you have two (2) felony convictions on your record, the Governor is required to have the Board of Parole Hearings review your application.39
Information that you must include in your application includes
- your personal identifying information,
- all of your prior convictions, including those from outside California,
- the circumstances of the crime for which you are requesting a pardon,
- why you are requesting a pardon, and
- reasons why you think you should be granted a pardon, including
- your rehabilitation efforts while incarcerated and following your release, and
- your disciplinary record while in jail / prison and while on probation / parole.40
There is no fee to apply for a pardon.41
You may represent yourself throughout the application process. However, there are a number of complex procedural and legal issues that make hiring a criminal defense attorney the better choice in most cases.
As Rancho Cucamonga criminal defense attorney Michael Scafiddi42 explains:
“Unless you have been twice convicted of any felony, the Governor has complete discretion in determining whether or not to grant a pardon. It therefore makes sense to consult with an experienced California expungement and pardons attorney who knows the most effective strategies to help you secure this incredibly desirable relief.”
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.
For more information on Nevada “pardons” laws, please see our page on Nevada “pardons” laws.
California Application for Gubernatorial Pardon
1 Penal Code 290.5 PC – [Governor's] Pardon or certificate of rehabilitation; relief from duty to register. (“(a)(1) A person required to register under Section 290 for an offense not listed in paragraph (2), upon obtaining a certificate of rehabilitation under Chapter 3.5 (commencing with Section 4852.01) of Title 6 of Part 3, shall be relieved of any further duty to register under Section 290 if he or she is not in custody, on parole, or on probation. . . . (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.”)
2 Penal Code 4854 PC -- Firearms; restoration of rights [upon a governor's pardon]; 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 17800 and 23510 and Chapter 2 (commencing with Section 29800) of Division 9 of Title 4 of Part 6 shall apply, if the person was ever convicted of a felony involving the use of a dangerous weapon.”)
See also Penal Code 4852.17 PC – Report of certificate of rehabilitation or [governor's] 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 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 17800 and 23510 and Chapter 2 (commencing with Section 29800) of Division 9 of Title 4 of Part 6 shall apply, if the person was ever convicted of a felony involving the use of a dangerous weapon.”)
3 Penal Code 4853 PC – Restoration of rights, privileges and franchises [upon obtaining a governor's pardon]; 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.”)
4 Penal Code 4852.16 PC – Pardon; certificate as application; issuance; recommendation. (“The certified copy of a certificate of rehabilitation transmitted to the Governor shall constitute an application for a full pardon upon receipt of which the Governor may, without any further investigation, issue a pardon to the person named therein, except that, pursuant to Section 8 of Article V of the Constitution, the Governor shall not grant a pardon to any person twice convicted of felony, except upon the written recommendation of a majority of the judges of the Supreme Court.”)
5 Penal Code 489 PC – Grand theft [crime eligible for a governor's pardon]; punishment. ("Grand theft is punishable as follows: (a) When the grand theft involves the theft of a firearm, by imprisonment in the state prison for 16 months, two, or three years. (b) In all other cases, by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year or pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170.")
6 Penal Code 209800 PC – 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 23515, or who is addicted to the use of any narcotic drug, and who owns, purchases, receives, or has in possession or under custody or control any firearm is guilty of a felony [unless they receive a governor's pardon].”)
7 Our 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.
8 Penal Code 4852.17 PC – Report of California certificate of rehabilitation or pardon; rights restored by pardon; exceptions, endnote 2, above.
See also Penal Code 4853 PC – Restoration of rights, privileges and franchises [upon obtaining a governor's pardon]; exceptions, endnote 3, above.
9 Cal. Const., Art. V, 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.”)
10 See Pardons and Commutations, Office of Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. website.
11 Governors Balance Pardons With Politics , The Pew Charitable Trusts, Feb. 8, 2013.
12 Penal Code 4854 PC -- Firearms; restoration of rights [upon a governor's pardon]; exceptions, endnote 2, above.
13 Penal Code 290.5 PC – [Governor's] Pardon or certificate of rehabilitation; relief from duty to register, endnote 1, above.
14 Code of Civil Procedure 203 CCP – 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 [as, for example, through a governor's pardon].”)
15 Government Code 1029 GC – 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.”)
16 Business and Professions Code 480 BPC – 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, you may not be denied a license solely on the basis of your conviction.
But see Penal Code 4853 PC, endnote 3, above.
17 Penal Code 314 PC – Indecent exposure [a misdemeanor that can be subject to a governor's pardon]. (“Every person who willfully and lewdly, either: . Exposes his person, or the private parts thereof, in any public place, or in any place where there are present other persons to be offended or annoyed thereby; or, . Procures, counsels, or assists any person so to expose himself or take part in any model artist exhibition, or to make any other exhibition of himself to public view, or the view of any number of persons, such as is offensive to decency, or is adapted to excite to vicious or lewd thoughts or acts, is guilty of a misdemeanor.”)
18 Penal Code 290 PC – Sex offender registration act [all crimes leading to this consequence are subject to a governor's pardon]. (“(c) The following persons shall be required to register: . . . subdivision 1 or 2 of Section 314 [California's "indecent exposure" law] . . . .”)
19 Elections Code 2101 EC – 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 [so no governor's pardon is needed], and at least 18 years of age at the time of the next election.”)
20 Penal Code 4852.17 PC – Report of certificate of rehabilitation or [governor's] pardon; rights restored by pardon; exceptions, endnote 2, above.
21 See same.
22 See Government Code 1029 GC – Conviction of crime as disqualification for peace officer; felonies; guilty pleas [only partially affected by a governor's pardon], endnote 15, above.
23 Office of the California Governor, How to Apply for a Pardon, at 3 (revised Sept. 5, 2013).
24 See same.
25 See same.
26 See same, at 1.
27 See same, at 1.
28 Cal. Const., Art. V, sec. 8, endnote 9, above.
See also Penal Code 4852.16 PC – Pardon; certificate as application; issuance; recommendation, endnote 4, above.
29 Office of the California Governor, How to Apply for a Pardon, at 1, endnote 23, above.
30 Penal Code 4852.01 PC—Petition for certificate of rehabilitation and pardon; application of chapter; gubernatorial pardon. (“(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 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.”)
See also Penal Code 4852.03 PC – Period of rehabilitation; determination of period.
31 Penal Code 4852.01 PC—Petition for certificate of rehabilitation and pardon; application of chapter; gubernatorial pardon. (“(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, Section 288, subdivision (c) of Section 288a, Section 288.5, or subdivision (j) of Section 289, or persons in the military service.”)
32 Penal Code 4852.06 PC – Petition for ascertainment and declaration of rehabilitation [one route to a governor's pardon application] 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.”)
33 Penal Code 4852.13 PC – Certificate of rehabilitation [automatic application for governor's pardon]; filing; petition to rescind. (“(a) Except as otherwise provided in subdivision (b), if after hearing, the court finds that the petitioner has demonstrated by his or her course of conduct his or her rehabilitation and his or her fitness to exercise all of the civil and political rights of citizenship, the court may make an order declaring that the petitioner has been rehabilitated, and recommending that the Governor grant a full pardon to the petitioner. This order shall be filed with the clerk of the court, and shall be known as a certificate of rehabilitation.”)
34 Penal Code 4852.01 PC—Petition for certificate of rehabilitation and pardon; application of chapter; gubernatorial pardon. (“(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.”)
35 See same.
36 Office of the California Governor, How to Apply for a Pardon, at 2, endnote 23, above.
37 Penal Code 4804 PC -- Notice to district attorney of application for pardon; proof of service to Governor. (“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.”)
38 Penal Code 4812 PC – Applications [for gubernatorial pardons]; investigation, report and recommendations; assistants; examination of witnesses; administration of oaths. (“Upon request of the Governor, the Board of Parole Hearings shall investigate and report on all applications for reprieves, 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.”)
39 Penal Code 4813 PC – Applications of second offenders; recommendation; transmittal of papers. (“In the case of applications [for governor's pardons] of persons twice convicted of a felony, the Board of Parole Hearings, after investigation, shall transmit its written recommendation upon such application to the Governor, together with all papers filed in connection with the application.”)
40 See California Application for Gubernatorial Pardon.
41 Office of the California Governor, How to Apply for a Pardon, at 1, endnote 23, above.