Expungement, Certificate of Rehabilitation, Pardon

As discussed in several of our previous blog posts, having a criminal conviction on your record can negatively impact your application for a professional license. Sometimes, the convictions are erroneous and can be corrected by contacting the Department of Justice or through petitioning for factual innocense. However, in the event the criminal convictions are correct, you are extremely limited in what steps you can take to correct your past actions.

Expungements, Certificates of Rehabilitation, and Governor’s Pardons are the hierarchy of steps you can take to address these past, criminal convictions in the state of California. And while they will never wholly eliminate the interference with your ability to attain or retain a professional license, they can be a big part of your defense or evidence to overcome the negative impact. 


Pursuant to Penal Code section 1203.4, a person who commits an offense and who subsequently fulfills all of the conditions of a grant of probation is generally entitled to be released from “all penalties and disabilities” resulting from that offense under the circumstances specified in that section. This is what is known as “expungement.” In general terms, an expungement results in a dismissal of your case, but it does not remove the conviction from your rap sheet. In other words, your record will still show that you were arrested and convicted of a crime, but after the expungement, your record will state that the conviction was set aside and the case was dismissed in the interest of justice. In addition, you must still disclose the conviction in response to any direct question on any application for licensure by any state or local agency.

While an expungement can dismiss your conviction, it makes no statement about your character and the type of person you are, which is an important consideration to licensing agencies. This is where a Certificate of Rehabilitation comes in. A Certificate of Rehabilitation will not remove a conviction from your record, but it does reflect in your record that you are a changed person and considered by the state to be a law-abiding citizen.

If your conviction was for a felony, expungement is the first step in obtaining a pardon.

Certificate of Rehabilitation

A Certificate of Rehabilitation is a court order declaring that a person convicted of a felony is now rehabilitated and now a law-abiding citizen.

This means, under Penal Code section 4852.13, the court has determined a person to have demonstrated by their course of conduct, their rehabilitation and fitness to exercise all of the civil and political rights of citizenship. As mentioned previously, it does not clear your criminal record, but it states that moving forward as a member of society, your crimes are in the past.

If the Certificate of Rehabilitation is granted, it acts as an automatic application for a Governor’s Pardon. If granted, the Certificate of Rehabilitation does not guarantee that a pardon will be granted.

Governor’s Pardon

A Governor’s Pardon is an honor that may be granted to people who have demonstrated exemplary behavior following their conviction. Obtaining a pardon is a distinct achievement based upon proof of a productive and law‐abiding life following conviction.

A pardon does not seal your criminal record or expunge the record of conviction, and the pardon is itself a public record. (Pen. Code, § 4852.17) When a pardon is granted, the California Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are notified so that they may update their records on the applicant. The pardon is filed with the Secretary of State, reported to the Legislature, and is a public record. If a pardon is granted, the Certificate of Rehabilitation or the application for a direct pardon will be reported to the Legislature in an annual report and will become a public record.

In total, nothing will completely erase your conviction (at least in California), but there are many steps that can be taken to reduce the negative effects of those prior convictions.