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Governor's Pardon

How to Apply

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. A ’Pardon’ is the ultimate mechanism to get your back on track?


1. What is a California Governor’s Pardon?

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 and discussed on this website in a separate section). Nor does a Pardon seal and destroy your criminal arrest records.

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.

2. What are the benefits and limitations of a pardon?

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 weapon (absent a pardon, Penal Code 12021 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),
  • relief from your lifetime duty to register as a sex offender pursuant to Penal Code 290 PC,
  • the right to serve on a California jury,
  • the right to be employed as a county probation officer or a state parole agent (but not as any other type of peace officer),
  • the right to apply for state licensing without automatically being denied a license, and
  • protection against having your pardoned conviction being used to impeach your credibility as a witness.
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.

What a 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.
  • 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.
  • A California Governor cannot Pardon a conviction that you suffered in another state or in federal court.


  • A Governor’s Pardon doesn’t necessarily avoid or prevent immigration issues such as deportation or removal.


3. Who is eligible for this relief?

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, includingPenal 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.

4. What is the application process?

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.

That said, the Governor may consider applications earlier under rare and compelling circumstances. For example, if you obtain a ‘finding of factual innocence’ from a trial court judge which results in your criminal arrest records being sealed and destroyed. For more information on factual innocence and destroying criminal records, please contact our office.

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.

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 attorney who can guide you through the most effective strategies to help you secure the desired 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. Generally 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.
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.

Once your application is received, the Governor may forward it to the Board of Parole Hearings for their review and recommendation.

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
  • your reason for requesting a Pardon.

If you or someone you know is seeking a Governor’s Pardon, contact John J. Stanley & Associates for your free consultation. 

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