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Gubernatorial Pardons in California: Past and Present

Posted by Christopher Martens | Jan 04, 2018 | 0 Comments

A Look at Your Options

Cleaning your record can help you move on with your life after a criminal conviction. In California, those with misdemeanor offenses can petition to have their conviction dismissed. But if you have a felony conviction and were sentenced to prison or otherwise put under the authority of the California Department of Corrections, you are ineligible for a dismissal. You could, however, be eligible to apply for a Governor's pardon.

A Governor's Pardon can make a world of difference. Historically, California's Governors in recent years past have not been generous with their pardoning power. The good news is that trend shows signs of changing. Let's take a look at the recent history of gubernatorial pardons in California and what a pardon can do for you.

The History of Pardons in California

California's current Governor Jerry Brown is well known for his generous use of his gubernatorial power. He granted 403 pardons during his first two terms as Governor from 1976-1984 and 929 pardons to date during this third and fourth terms as Governor from 2011 to present. Previous Governors, as you will see, have not shown such compassion.

  • Governor Schwarzenegger granted only 16 pardons during his terms from 2003-2011.
  • Governor Gray Davis granted no pardons during his term from 1999-2003.
  • Governor Pete Wilson granted 13 pardons during his terms from 1991-1999, and
  • Governor George Deukmejian granted 328 pardons during his terms from 1983-1991.

Applying for a Pardon

A Governor's pardon is an honor, not a right. It is only granted to those who've shown through exceptional behavior they have been rehabilitated from their criminal ways. Staying out of trouble since your conviction isn't enough. You must earn a pardon. You also need to show you are a contributing member in your community, have taken large strides to bettering yourself, or have had significant achievements since your conviction. You will need to provide proof you have been a productive and law-abiding citizen. Also, you typically won't be successful in applying for a pardon unless it has been at least 10 years since your conviction.

First Seek Help

You need to speak with an attorney to better understand the process for applying for a pardon as it applies in your specific case. California criminal defense attorneys with experience cleaning records will be your best point of contact if you have any questions about pardons. Because California's recent history of Governor's pardons—aside from Governor Brown— doesn't provide much hope, you should work closely with an attorney who has handled these types of applications.

Your first step should be applying for a certificate of rehabilitation from the Superior court in the county you live in. A certificate of rehabilitation states you have rehabilitated from your criminal past. It can be helpful in obtaining employment or housing with a criminal record. Once you apply for a certificate of rehabilitation, your application will be forwarded to the Office of the Governor to be considered for a pardon. If you are ineligible for a certificate of rehabilitation, you can apply directly to the Office of the Governor.

The Limitations

Remember that a pardon is not the same as a dismissal. Your conviction for which you are seeking a pardon will not be erased from your record, nor will your criminal record be sealed. Also, California Governors can only pardon California offenses. Convictions from other states or for federal offenses cannot be pardoned.

No matter your situation, you should speak with a Tulare criminal defense attorney about your options for moving on from your conviction. An attorney can explain what you are eligible for and help you navigate the process from start to finish. A pardon can make a significant difference if you feel your criminal history is holding you back from jobs, housing, financial assistance, or serving a role in your community. Accordingly, you should work with an attorney to ensure you have the best possible chance at having a pardon granted.

Do you want to clean your record so you can move on with your life? Visalia area criminal defense attorney Christopher Martens can help you clean your record so you can have a fresh start. With over ten years of criminal defense experience, Mr. Martens has handled thousands of cases and has taken over 50 to trial. Attorney Christopher Martens has the skills and knowledge needed to defend your rights. Serving the Visalia and Fresno areas, The Law Offices of Christopher Martens can provide expert criminal defense counsel. Call our office at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] for a free consultation.

About the Author

Christopher Martens

Bio Visalia and Bakersfield criminal defense attorney who has dedicated his life to helping those who have been accused of crimes or injured due to the negligence of others.


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