How To Obtain A Governer’s Pardon In California

This guide explains the process of applying for a pardon.

A California governor’s pardon can restore many of your personal and civil rights that were taken away from you once you were convicted. Below we explain all the details of a Governors Pardon and all the steps needed to obtain one.

Overview Of A Governors Pardon

If you have been convicted of a crime, especially a felony, you may want to get a Governor’s pardon. Petitioners can apply for a pardon if they can demonstrate that the underlying conduct that was the basis for the conviction was isolated and they have made strides in their lives since the conclusion of their case.

A governor’s pardon is not a right or an entitlement, however, and the decision as to whether you are granted one is entirely within the discretion of the current California governor, unless you have multiple felony convictions1.

The standards that a person must meet to show that they have been rehabilitated are usually very high.

Benefits of a Pardon

A governor’s pardon has many benefits. If granted, these rights will be restored to you:

  • Your 2nd Amendment right to own and possess firearms (unless convicted of a felony involving use of a dangerous weapon)2.
  • Right to serve on a California civil or criminal jury3
  • Relieved from lifetime obligation to register as a sex offender4.
  • Right to apply for a state professional license without automatic disqualification5
  • Ability to serve as a county probation officer or state parole officer6

A pardon, especially one with a Certificate of Rehabilitation (COR), can be extremely helpful in situations where you are required to disclose a prior conviction since you can include the caveat that you received a pardon with the COR.

This advises an employer, school, or financial institution, or anyone else, that your past conduct is not a reflection of your current disposition or character and that you have been recognized as a law-abiding and productive citizen for many years.

Limitations of a Pardon

A governor’s pardon is not a total white-wash of your conviction and does not restore all rights you once had before your conviction. Limitations include:

  • You may not serve as a peace officer
  • If convicted of an offense after the pardon was granted, your prior conviction can be used against you to impeach your credibility and enhance any sentence imposed7.
  • If you are an undocumented immigrant or not a U.S. citizen, you are not immune from deportation. If your crime was one of moral turpitude (forgery, money laundering, sexual assault, robbery, etc.), you are not eligible for a green card or permanent residency
  • If your conviction involved use of a dangerous weapon, your right to own or possess firearms will not be restored
  • Your criminal records are not sealed or destroyed and your conviction must be disclosed if applying for citizenship or public employment

Difference Between a Pardon and an Expungement

Both a pardon and an expungement8 are forms of legal forgiveness or even redemption for past criminal conduct. A pardon can occur at any time in the legal process, while an expungement can only occur after a conviction and the defendant has completed all conditions of the sentence. Pardons may be granted if you can show that you have been rehabilitated or that you were wrongfully convicted. If pardoned, your conviction and sentence, if any, is reversed.

Other chief differences between the pardoning and expungement process is that a pardon is often politicized, largely discretionary, and not commonly granted while an expungement merely depends on administrative matters, has statutory requirements and is more readily granted.

You are eligible for expungement if you meet the following requirements:

Also, you must disclose your expunged conviction if applying for a state license, running for public office, contracting with the California lottery commission, or applying for public employment. If you do commit another crime, your expunged conviction can be used to enhance your sentence. Further, your 2nd Amendment rights to own and possess a firearm are not restored unless you have a felony conviction, if a wobbler, reduced to a misdemeanor9.

An expunged record can save you from deportation even though you must disclose your conviction to the ICE who will consider it in any determination of moral character10. Moral character is a factor in granting permanent residency, citizenship, and cancellation of removal. You are also required to reveal a conviction along with the fact that you were pardoned to the ICE.

If you are a permanent resident, a pardon may allow you to evade deportation but not necessarily if you lack a green card. If deported and before you can be legally re-admitted to the US, you will have to overcome the grounds of inadmissibility by applying for and being granted a waiver by the federal government11.

Eligibility For A Pardon

You can apply for a pardon either by first being granted a Certificate of Rehabilitation or by a seeking a direct pardon by filing an Application for Executive Clemency. You can only use the direct pardon process if you:


No longer reside in California


Were convicted of any of the following offenses:

  • Sodomy with a minor12
  • Lewd acts with a minor under the age of 1413
  • Continuous sexual abuse of a child14
  • Oral copulation with a minor15
  • Forcible acts of penetration of a minor16
  • A misdemeanor that does not require registration as a sex offender17
  • Serving mandatory life parole
  • Sentenced to death

Any of these circumstances disqualifies you from seeking a Certificate Of Rehabilitation and forces you to use the direct process for a pardon. Otherwise, if you do qualify and were granted a COR, this automatically qualifies you for a governor’s pardon.

When Should You Apply for a Certificate of Rehabilitation First?

A Certificate of Rehabilitation is a court order that declares you rehabilitated. It is useful if you are applying for housing benefits, employment, and professional licensing.

You can apply for a COR if you were convicted of a felony (not including the offenses listed above) or a misdemeanor for which you were not required to register as a sex offender. You cannot apply unless you first meet the following requirements:


Resided in California for 5 continuous years


At least 7-years have passed since you were released from jail or prison (some offenses are 10-years).


You have not been incarcerated since your conviction was dismissed or expunged


Are not currently on probation for any other felony


Present a convincing argument that you are rehabilitated and deserving restoration of civil and political rights

Most applicants apply for a COR once their conviction has been expunged or if the offense was not eligible for expungement (served state prison time) once the requisite number of years since you were released from incarceration has passed. Once the COR is granted, you are automatically eligible for a governor’s pardon. Although pardons are not easy to obtain, your chances of receiving one are increased if you obtain a COR first.

If you were convicted of a misdemeanor sex offense, you are eligible for a COR only if you had the conviction dismissed or expunged and meet the other above requirements. But if you were originally convicted of a felony and the judge reduced it to a misdemeanor, you are ineligible for a COR unless the offense was a particular sex offense18. You can, however, directly apply for a governor’s pardon.

Steps In A Pardon Application

If you wish to apply for a governor’s pardon, most applicants will first want to seek and obtain a COR if applicable to their case. Your application is sent to the California Superior Court where your conviction was entered.

Otherwise, you can apply directly for a pardon by submitting a Notice of Intent to Apply for Executive Clemency to the District Attorney in each county where you were convicted of a felony. Once notice is given, submit the Application for Executive Clemency to the Office of the California Governor.

Your application should include the following information:

  • Personal identifying information
  • List of all criminal convictions regardless of state
  • Description of the circumstances of the crime for which you are seeking a pardon
  • Reason for requesting a pardon
  • Reasons for granting you a pardon

Describe all activities or programs you participated in that contributed to your rehabilitation while in prison, on parole or after all conditions of parole or probation were met.

These conditions include completing drug and alcohol counseling, volunteer efforts, maintaining steady employment, providing financial and emotional support for family members, degrees or educational certificates that you earned, a business that you started, and participation in church or other community activities.

If your disciplinary record was clean while incarcerated, mention that as well as classes or other prison programs you participated in.

If you only have one felony conviction, then it is entirely within the discretion of the governor whether to grant you a pardon. Should you have multiple felony convictions, the California Supreme Court is required to review your application and recommend that you be pardoned.19.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Can I Prove That I Have Been Rehabilitated?

You can prove that you have been rehabilitated by showing that you have led an honest and upright life and have exhibited a good moral character since you were released from prison.

Is there a State Fee To Apply For A Pardon in California?

No. There is no state fee to apply for a pardon in California.

Is There Going To Be An Investigation Of Me If I Apply For a Pardon?

Yes. An investigation is usually conducted when someone applies for a pardon. This investigation is conducted to find out information about the person’s criminal history, the person’s rehabilitation efforts while they were incarcerated and after they were released, the person’s disciplinary record while they were in prison and on probation, and the reasons why the person is applying for a pardon.

How Can I Know What My Chances Are Of Being Granted A Pardon?

A person’s chances of being granted a pardon depend on the facts of their case. Usually, if a person committed a crime many years ago, the crime was a less serious offense and the person has a very compelling life story, they will have a greater chance of being granted a pardon in California.

How Aizman Law Firm Can Help

Persons who have served time in prison and who have obeyed the laws in California during a rehabilitation period may apply for a pardon to have their civil rights restored

At the Aizman Law Firm, our experienced criminal defense attorneys can help you with questions you might have about applying for a pardon in California. If you need to speak to an attorney about your case or about applying for a pardon, please call our office at: (818) 351-9555.

Request A Free Consultation 818-351-9555 

  1. People v. Ansell (2001) 25 Cal.4th 868,891; California Constitution, Art. V, § 8 []
  2. Penal Code § 4854 []
  3. Cal. Civ. Code § 203 []
  4. Penal Code § 290.5 []
  5. BPC § 480 []
  6. Cal. Gov.Code § 1029 []
  7. Evid. Code § 788; People v. Castro (1985) 38 Cal.3d 301-306-319 []
  8. Penal Code § 1203.4 []
  9. Penal Code § 17(b). []
  10. INS § 101(f); 8 U.S.C. 1101(f). []
  11. USCIS Form I-601 []
  12. Penal Code § 286(c). []
  13. Penal Code § 288 []
  14. Penal Code § 288.5. []
  15. Penal Code § 288(a). []
  16. Penal Code § 289. []
  17. Penal Code § 261.5 []
  18. Penal Code § 290 []
  19. Penal Code § 4852 []

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