What is a pardon – Eligibility and Benefits
The effects of a criminal conviction do not end once an individual has served their sentence. In fact, the consequences of a criminal conviction can last forever and can impede the rest of a person’s life. Fortunately, the California Constitution gives the governor the power to grant clemency in the form of a sentence commutation or a pardon. While a commutation is directed at people who are still serving a sentence, a pardon is designed to reward people who have shown that they have been fully rehabilitated after serving their sentence for a criminal conviction.
In general, anyone who had been convicted and has completed his or her probation or parole for a California state criminal offense can apply for a Governor’s pardon. The only exceptions are for individuals who have been impeached, as well as those convicted for crimes in other jurisdictions or for federal crimes.
There are many reasons a person who had been convicted of a California state crime should consider applying for a gubernatorial pardon. One of the most important benefits of a pardon is the restoration of certain civil rights, including:
- The right to own or possess firearms;
- The right to serve on a jury;
- The right to become a probation or a parole officer;
- The right to obtain certain professional licenses;
- And, if convicted of a sex crime, a relief from the duty to register as a sex offender.
Moreover, if you are a lawfully present non-citizen, a pardon can be used as a defense to deportation or to eliminate bars to obtaining citizenship.
While a pardon is an official acknowledgement of the positive growth and the full rehabilitation of a person and restores many rights, it does not eliminate a criminal conviction from public records. More specifically, it does not seal an arrest record, nor it expunges a criminal record. Furthermore, there are instances where by law, people convicted of a felony involving the use of a dangerous weapon, cannot have their gun rights restored. In addition, in case of a subsequent offense, a pardoned conviction would still count as a prior.
A gubernatorial pardon is very hard to obtain, as it is considered an honor that the applicant has to demonstrate that they have earned. Depending on the crime, in order to be considered for a pardon, a person has to complete a certain period of rehabilitation following parole or probation. In general, absent exceptional and compelling circumstances, an application for pardon would 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 are two possible routes in applying for a governor’ pardon: a petition for a Certificate of Rehabilitation and a direct pardon application with the governor’s office. In both cases, the applicant is required to notify the district attorney in the county of conviction of his or her intention to apply.
Certificate of Rehabilitation
A Certificate of Rehabilitation is a court order declaring rehabilitation after a conviction. If granted, the court will forward it to the governor’s office where the order will automatically become an application for a pardon. However, a Certificate of Rehabilitation is not a guarantee that a pardon will be granted.
There are a number of eligibility requirements that an individual has to meet in order to apply for a Certificate of Rehabilitation. Generally, it is available to people who have a prior conviction for:
- A felony and were sentenced to prison or another California state penal institution; or
- A felony and were sentenced to probation and the conviction has been expunged; or
- A misdemeanor sex offense listed in Penal Code 290 and the conviction has been expunged.
In addition, you have to show that you have not been incarcerated since completion or dismissal of your sentence, and that you are not currently on probation for a felony.
Moreover, the applicant has to be able to prove a “satisfactory period of rehabilitation.” This period includes:
- California residency for at least 5 years prior to filing a petition for a Certificate of Rehabilitation, AND
- Additional two to five years, depending on the crime for which the applicant was convicted.
Usually, the “satisfactory period of rehabilitation” is the absolute minimum period that has to pass before one can receive a Certificate of Rehabilitation. However, it is important to note that judges do have the authority to waive the rehabilitation period and to grant a certificate earlier, if it would be in the interest of justice.
If you are interested in obtaining a Certificate of Rehabilitation, you can contact our California attorneys at the Justice Firm today for a case evaluation and eligibility determination locally at (310) 914-2444 or at our Toll-Free number at (866) 695-6714, or click here.
Individuals that do not meet the residency requirement for a Certificate of Rehabilitation, are ineligible for other reasons, or have had their application for a certificate denied, may apply for a pardon directly to the governor. Once the governor receives the application, he or she has the option of requesting more facts from the judge or the district attorney. In addition, the governor may request an investigation by the California Board of Parole Hearings.
Regardless of which route a person takes, the decision whether to grant or deny an application for a pardon is entirely within the governor’s discretion. The only exception being for people convicted of two or more felonies, in which case, the governor has to seek and obtain the consent of majority of the California Supreme Court.
It is important to note that obtaining a pardon is not an easy achievement and for both, a pardon and a Certificate of Rehabilitation, the applicant has to show that they have lived an honest and upstanding life, have obeyed the law, and exhibit a good moral character.
Therefore, before applying, the applicant should assemble documents and records proving that, since their conviction, the applicant has been a law-abiding citizen and an outstanding individual. There are a number of factors that would be considered in an application for a pardon, including records of alcohol or drug treatment, records of work and education history, volunteer work, as well as letters of recommendation from pastors, priests, community leaders, employers, and family, and anything else that would establish good moral character, eligibility, and rehabilitation. And for those facing a deportation, a detailed explanation of how a pardon would help should be included with the application.
The process of applying for a pardon and preparing a strong case can be daunting, so the help of an experienced post-conviction attorney can be crucial in showing that the applicant has led an exemplary life following their conviction. If you want to know more about the pardon application process and how you can restore your rights after a criminal conviction, the highly skilled and experienced appeals attorneys at the Justice Firm are ready to help and answer any questions you might have.
If you or someone you know, needs legal assistance in applying for a pardon or another post-conviction relief, you can contact our California attorneys today locally at (310) 914-2444 or at our Toll-Free number at (866) 695-6714, or click here.