What’s a ‘Certificate of Rehabilitation’ in Los Angeles Criminal Law?

December 06, 2021 by M. Bernard in California  Criminal Defense  
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A Tale of Rehabilitation

In the classic 1939 film, “The Wizard of Oz,” once the Wizard is revealed as “a very good man, just a very bad wizard,” he gives the Scarecrow a diploma (in lieu of a brain), the Cowardly Lion a medal (in lieu of courage), and he gives the Tin Man a ticking testimonial to philanthropy (in lieu of a heart).

Back in the day, my friend, ‘Chris’, was convicted of Grand Theft and Embezzlement and served state prison time. After his release, after the completion of parole, and after struggling for several years to make ends meet, C’s good looks and charm led him to a Hollywood Hills “industry” party and a fortuitous meeting at that event led to an offer to become an A-List producer’s Executive Assistant.

Although he is not an aggressive person and has never been an athlete, one of Chris’s favorite expressions has always been, “Sometimes the best defense is a strong offense.” So, when Chris was offered the extremely attractive Executive Assistant position, he had two options. He could have said nothing about his past and hoped for the best, or he could have done what he did do: Decide to be completely open, present a full (and tantalizingly glamorous) curriculum vitae along with a hard-won Certificate of Rehabilitation.

The reason Chris’s Certificate of Rehabilitation was hard-won is that, in addition to having to wait a certain amount of time after completing parole, he didn’t understand that one of the important Certificate of Rehabilitation petition requirements is that the petitioner must have continuously lived in California for five years prior to petitioning.

Chris says he should have realized because, “Los Angeles is the land of stagnant re-invention. It may be the only place where the ability to stay in place while re-inventing oneself is more crucial to survival than reputation.” After being released from prison, Chris went back and forth between Los Angeles and Las Vegas; this set him back time-wise regarding the Certificate of Rehabilitation process. He was doing all of the Certificate of Rehabilitation work himself and, although he remains proud of eventually prevailing, admits that he would have saved much time and anguish had he been working with an attorney.

In C’s case, he was never asked to fill out a formal employment application and his dream job didn’t require a State License. So, was C’s Certificate of Rehabilitation like the Scarecrow’s diploma, the Lion’s medal, and the Tin Man’s testimonial?

Did successfully petitioning for and being granted the Certificate of Rehabilitation simply give him the confidence to present his best, true self when opportunity knocked?

I suppose only the Wizard knows. Now, many years later, Chris is a film producer in his own right, happily working from the cozy Hollywood Hills home he (legally) owns.

A Certificate of Rehabilitation also functions as an automatic application for a Governor’s pardon; Chris is still waiting for his, but “he’s certainly not stressing about it.”

A Certificate of Rehabilitation is a Court Order declaring that a person convicted of a felony is now rehabilitated. A person who was convicted of a felony, was sentenced to state prison, and released from custody on parole is a potential candidate for a Certificate of Rehabilitation. There is a waiting requirement.

It usually takes seven years after completing parole for a candidate to be eligible to petition for a Certificate of Rehabilitation. Also, the candidate must have continuously lived in California for five years before being eligible. If the Certificate of Rehabilitation is granted, it serves as an automatic application for a Governor’s pardon; it does not guarantee that a pardon will be granted.

The California Certificate of Rehabilitation is only valid in California; it is not recognized by other states.

Eligibility for Rehabilitation

California Penal Code 4852.01 details the eligibility requirements for obtaining a Certificate of Rehabilitation: 

(a) A person convicted of a felony who is committed to a state prison or other institution or agency, including commitment to a county jail pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170, may file a petition for a certificate of rehabilitation and pardon pursuant to the provisions of this chapter.

(b) A person convicted of a felony or a person who is convicted of a misdemeanor violation of any sex offense specified in Section 290, the accusatory pleading of which has been dismissed pursuant to Section 1203.4, may file a petition for certificate of rehabilitation and pardon pursuant to the provisions of this chapter if the petitioner has not been incarcerated in a prison, jail, detention facility, or other penal institution or agency since the dismissal of the accusatory pleading, is not on probation for the commission of any other felony, and the petitioner presents satisfactory evidence of five years’ residence in this state prior to the filing of the petition.

If you want to petition for a Certificate of Rehabilitation, you can access and print the application and fee waiver form from the Department of Justice (DOJ) website. In order to fill out the form, you will need to know your criminal history and request your criminal records. Part of the criminal record request process includes submitting Live Scan fingerprints. If a plea bargain was involved, you can obtain a copy of it at the courthouse where your case was filed.

It’s always helpful to attach a personal statement explaining your situation and the life improvements you’ve made. Testimonial letters from community members written on your behalf are also advised. These letters would consist of:

  • Who is the person writing the letter?
  • How long have they known you?
  • What is the relationship to you?
    • That they will attest to your being a good community member, a valuable person.
    • That they support your request for a Certificate of Rehabilitation.

Another complication in the Certificate of Rehabilitation process is that every California jurisdiction handles things differently according to its own local court rules. The process for petitioning in Los Angeles is different than the process in San Diego is different than the process in San Francisco…

A qualified attorney can ease you through this process.

After being convicted of a felony in California, it’s important to understand that there are four different types of available relief:

  • Reduction of Felony to a Misdemeanor
  • Probation Modification
  • Expungement
  • Certificate of Rehabilitation

Again, it’s best, if possible, to work with an experienced Criminal Law Attorney who can explain your options and who is also expert at record clearing.

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