Certificate of Rehabilitation

The guide offers information for someone interested in getting a Certificate of Rehabilitation and pardon. It explains what a Certificate of Rehabilitation does and does not do, who is eligible, and how to apply. If you get a Certificate of Rehabilitation it gets sent to the Governor as your application for a pardon.


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Certificate of Rehabilitation

A Certificate of Rehabilitation is a court order that says someone who was (1) convicted of a felony and (2) served time in state or local prison, has been rehabilitated

It does not erase your criminal record. But, it can have some benefits. For example, it may help when you're applying for a job or professional license from the state.

There are laws about what an employer can ask about or consider related to your criminal history when you apply for a job. One of these laws is called the Fair Chance Act.

In general, rehabilitation means that for many years after your conviction, you lived an "honest and upright life", followed the law, and showed good moral character. (See Penal Code section 4852.05.)

It's also a first step to applying to the Governor for a pardon

If you get a Certificate of Rehabilitation, it gets sent to the Governor's Office. It is considered an official application for a pardon from the governor.

  • What it can do
    • Help your chance of getting a professional license from a state board
    • Be the official record that shows you're rehabilitated, which may improve your job or housing opportunities
    • Get sent to the Governor as your official application for a pardon 
    • In very rare cases, it can get end sex offender registration requirements 
  • what it does not do
    • Erase a felony conviction or seal a criminal record
    • Let you say you don't have a criminal record (this may be possible if your case was dismissed/expunged first)
    • Restore your gun rights
    • Prevent the conviction from being considered a prior if you're convicted later of a different crime
    • End sex offender registration requirements, unless you also got relief under section 290.5

Who can apply 

To apply for a Certificate of Rehabilitation you must meet each requirement.

1. California residency requirement 

You must have lived in California continuously for the past 5 years prior to applying. If you do not live in California, you can ask for a pardon directly instead.

2. Required waiting period (at least 7 years)

This is how long you have to wait after you're released from jail, prison, parole, or probation before you can apply. This is called the period of rehabilitation. During this time, you can't get in trouble with the law and must make significant improvements in your life. 

The period of rehabilitation is the 5 years of California residency, plus an additional few years based on your conviction. Generally, it's 2 to 5 additional years. The period of rehabilitation starts when you're released from jail, prison, probation, or parole (whichever happens first).

This means in general, you can't apply unless it's been at least 7 years since you're released from jail or prison. You can find the wait periods in California Penal Code section 4852.03.

3. Convictions that qualify

Generally, only those convicted of a felony are eligible. There are some exceptions, discussed below, for those who have misdemeanor sex crime convictions. 

Felony convictions and went to state or local prison (except for certain sex crimes)

You must also be off parole, post-release community supervision, or mandatory supervision.

Felony probation (except for certain sex crimes)

You must have your case dismissed (expunged) before you can apply. You also can't have gone to jail or prison since you got your felony dismissed or be on probation for another felony.

You can ask to have your felony reduced to a misdemeanor, but if it is reduced, then you will not be eligible for a Certificate of Rehabilitation. Depending on your need, one or the other may be better for your situation. For example, a Certificate of Rehabilitation may be more helpful if you're applying for a professional license with the state. Talk to a lawyer if you may be applying for a professional license to find out what's best for you.

Felonies or misdemeanors involving sex crimes listed in Penal Code section 290

You must have your case dismissed (expunged) before you can apply. You also can't have gone to jail or prison since you got your case dismissed or be on probation for another felony.

There are some people who can't get a Certificate of Rehabilitation

You are not eligible if you are currently in the military or if you live out of state. You also don't qualify if you are on mandatory life parole, have a death sentence, or are convicted of sex crimes involving a minor (Penal Code section 269, 286(c), 288, 288a(c), 288.5, 288.7, or 289(j)).

If you are ineligible to apply for a certificate of rehabilitation, you can apply to the governor for a direct pardon.

How to apply

If you are eligible, you can file a petition with the superior court in the county where you live or in the county where you were convicted. This is a lengthy process and may involve a hearing.  

These instructions are general. The court where may have forms for you to use and specific instructions, like where to file your Petition and how a court date gets set. 

  • Consider getting legal help

    You can do this on your own without a lawyer. But consider getting help with the process. In court, you have the right to have a lawyer of your choice or a public defender. Many public defender's offices have programs to help people clean their records.
    If there is no public defender in your county, you may still have the right to get help during proceedings, either from the county’s adult probation officer or, if the court thinks you need legal representation, from a court-appointed lawyer.

    Find legal help

  • Get your criminal record and find out what forms you need

    Get a copy of your criminal record (RAP sheet). You can get this from the court where you were convicted or from the Department of Justice. You will need this information to fill out your application (petition).

    Contact the court to find out what forms you need. Each court is required to have forms for you to use. They often come with additional instructions. Contact the court or public defender where you live or where the convictions happened to ask how you can get the forms.

  • Fill out forms and make copies

    Fill out forms. The California Board of Parole Hearings has forms the court must make available:

    Your court may have additional forms and instructions for you.

    Gather supporting documents. For example, letters of support, certificates from classes or programs you've completed, or proof of education or employment. 

    Make a copy of the Petition. The original Petition is for the court. You will want to keep a copy. The Notices are for the District Attorney's and Governor's Office. You'll need at least 3 copies of the Notice once you have the court date information.

  • File forms

    File the forms in the Superior Court in the county where you live or in the county where you were convicted. There is no filing fee.

    The clerk may give you a court date. In some counties, the Petition first gets sent to the District Attorney who will set the court date.

  • Give notice of your court date

    If the clerk gave you a court date, you must officially let the District Attorney and Governor's Office know about the court date (give the notice). In some courts, it's the District Attorney that asks for a court date after an investigation. In that case, the District Attorney will send out the Notices.

    If you got the court date, you will give the Notice:

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    At least 30 days before your court date, you must formally notify the District Attorney's and Governor's Office about the court date. This is called serving court papers.


    Who can serve and how to serve court papers

    Someone 18 or older, not you, must deliver a copy of the Notice. The person who delivers the copies is called your server. The server can deliver the papers in person or by mail. Once delivered file proof of service in the court.

    Who gets a copy

    • The District Attorney in the county where you filed the Petition
    • The District Attorney in each county where you have a felony conviction 
    • The Governor's Office

    How to file proof

    Once the server delivers the Notices, they can fill out and sign the "Affidavit of Service by Mail" or "Notice of Service in Person" that came with your Notice. Make a copy and then file the original with the court.

  • Respond to any requests and wait

    Depending on the county where you applied, you may have more forms to fill out. For example, the District Attorney may ask you for more information. 

    Once your application is complete, it may be a long wait (many months). The District Attorney may look into what you've done since your release.

  • Go to your court date

    On your court date, you will be able to tell the judge why you think you're rehabilitated. You can have witnesses to your good character, letters of recommendation, employment history, community activity and service, and any other evidence you believe will support your request. 

  • If the judge issues a Certificate of Rehabilitation

    If the judge issues a Certificate of Rehabilitation, the clerk of the court sends the Certificate of Rehabilitation to the Governor's Office. It's an official application for a pardon. The Board of Parole Hearings will review your application within 1 year and report their recommendation to the Governor.

    The clerk also sends the Certificate to the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice will add a record of the Certificate to your criminal record. This does not erase the criminal record.

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