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Guide to California Pardons

March 7, 2019 Guides & Reports


So Young Lee

So Young Lee

Staff Attorney, Immigrant Rights

So Young Lee

Staff Attorney, Immigrant Rights

So Young is a staff attorney in the Immigrant Rights program. She provides direct legal services to immigrants who are detained and facing deportation. So Young first joined Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus in 2013 to organize undocumented API youth and rejoined in 2019 as a Bridge Fellow. In law school, she interned with the Immigration Defense Unit of the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office and at a private public interest firm in its deportation defense practice. So Young received her law degree from UC Hastings College of the Law.

“Despite what my papers might say, I feel that I am an American and a Californian. This country and this state are the only home I have known. Being a Californian means believing that people can turn their lives around and deserve second chances, but also that we are tied together and owe a duty to serve one another. I have tried my best to earn that second chance and am thankful that the Governor recognized that with a pardon today.”

That's what Bounchan Keola, a formerly incarcerated firefighter, told us when he was pardoned by Governor Newsom earlier this year.

People hold up signs reading "pardon refugees," "keep families together," and "stop southeast asian deportations" in a park

At Advancing Justice - Asian Law Caucus, we advocate to expand clemency so that community members like Mr. Keola can serve their time, return home to rebuild their lives, and live without fear of deportation, often to a country they fled as a young child.

In partnership with California Coalition for Women Prisoners, we developed a guide to pardons to support people in submitting as strong an application as possible, while we continue to organize for long term change to restore people’s rights and to allow immigrants to seek relief from deportation.

Below, we share some of the most frequently asked questions about California pardons. To learn more about the pardon process and the paperwork required to apply, visit our Pardon Guide.

For legal assistance, visit our Get Help page or call (415) 896-1701 to schedule time at one of our free legal clinics.

What is a pardon and how does it help our immigrant community?

A pardon restores rights, such as the ability to obtain a professional license and allows for immigrants, in some cases, to reopen their deportation cases.

Many immigrants are ordered deported based on an underlying conviction. Consequently, immigrants with convictions, including very old convictions, live with the threat of being deported from the United States. Immigrants facing deportation in the near future may be able to seek a pardon to eliminate the immigration consequences of their conviction.

Who can apply for a pardon?

Generally, anyone with a California state conviction can apply to the Governor for a pardon. The process of applying for a pardon may vary depending on your situation and history. The Governor cannot pardon federal convictions or convictions from other states. Applicants do not need an attorney to apply for pardon. Some applicants do work with attorneys, but it is not required.

How can you apply for a pardon?

There are two ways you can apply for a pardon - a Certificate of Rehabilitation (COR) or a direct pardon. If a court grants you a COR, the certificate is forwarded to the Governor's Office and automatically becomes a pardon application. Most people who are granted pardons go through the COR process. If you do not qualify for a COR or cannot wait because you may be deported, you can request a direct pardon and explain why you cannot seek a COR.

I previously applied for a pardon. Do I need to submit a new application?

It depends on when you submitted the application. If you submitted a pardon application before January 2019 to a past governor, you will need to submit a new application and supporting documents.

If you submitted a pardon application after January 2019 to Governor Newsom, you can supplement your application by sending new information to pardons@gov.ca.gov or mail it to Office of the Governor, Attn: Legal Affairs/Parole and Clemency, 1021 O Street, Sacramento, CA 95814.

If you submitted a pardon application through the COR process before January 2019 and you would like Governor Newsom to consider your application, you can reapply without sending in a new application by submitting a re-application request. With a re-application request, you do not need to resubmit previously submitted documents but can continue to send in new documents.

What is the pardon process for people with a prior felony?

If you have more than one felony conviction, the Governor cannot grant a pardon until you are recommended by the California Supreme Court. The application process is the same one that everyone else goes through. The Governor decides which applications are sent to the Supreme Court for review. They are not required to forward all applications to the Supreme Court. Just as with applicants without priors, applicants with priors may or may not be interviewed by a Board of Parole Hearings investigator.