A criminal conviction in California affects your life even after serving jail time and paying all the court-ordered fines. A criminal history can lock you out of employment opportunities, decent housing, and the ability to renew or obtain professional certificates. Additionally, authorities will always be on your case if a crime occurs in your area. Fortunately, if you have stayed out of trouble following your conviction, there are several ways through which you can move past the conviction and avoid the disabilities associated with your crimes.

One of the most common ways you can avoid the disabilities of your conviction is by obtaining a Certificate of rehabilitation. A certificate of rehabilitation is a court-certified document declaring you are a law-abiding citizen and demonstrating moral character. This certificate aims to restore your civil and political rights after a felony or misdemeanor conviction in California. 

The process of petitioning for a certificate of rehabilitation is challenging. Therefore, seeking legal guidance is vital. At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we will offer you the legal guidance you need for a smooth and fast petition to obtain your rehabilitation certificate in Riverside, CA.

Understanding the Certificate of Rehabilitation in California

Under California PC 4852.01 to 4852.21, a certificate of rehabilitation is a legal document that offers an enticing way to clear your criminal record and prove that you are a law-abiding citizen. After a conviction for a felony in California, the conviction sticks around even after you serve your prison time, probation, and pay your fines. Having a felony conviction affects both your personal and professional relationships. As you attempt to return to society and lead a normal life, this certificate could be crucial in changing how people view you.

Obtaining a rehabilitation certificate is not an easy process. You must file a petition, attend a hearing and wait for the judge’s decision. When granting you the rehabilitation certificate, the judge determines whether you are worth the pardon. Additionally, the court will consider the interests of the society.

A COR is an application for a governor’s pardon, which offers more relief for your conviction. However, it is essential to understand that receiving a rehabilitation certificate does not guarantee a governor’s pardon.

Eligibility Criteria for the Certificate of Rehabilitation

Not all individuals who face a felony conviction will receive a COR in California. You must meet the following eligibility criteria before the court accepts your petition:

  • You have not served a jail or prison sentence after the end of your sentence.
  • You are not on probation for a felony conviction.
  • You have been rehabilitated for several years. The time you must wait before filing for a COR varies depending on the nature of your charges and conviction.
  • You have lived in California for up to five years before filing your petition.
  • After your felony conviction, you served probation and expunged the conviction.
  • You faced a misdemeanor conviction for a sex offense, and the court has granted you an expungement.
  • You faced a felony conviction in another state and have met all the above requirements.

If the following applies in your situation, you cannot receive this certificate:

  • You were sentenced to death
  • You are serving a mandatory life parole
  • You committed a federal crime in California or any other state
  • You are an active member of the military
  • You faced a conviction for a sex offense, and the court ruled that you are a threat to minors

In addition to the following factors, individuals who have been convicted for the following sex offenses cannot obtain a COR in California:

  • Lewd conduct with a minor
  • Continuous child sexual abuse
  • Sodomy by force or violence or sodomy with a minor
  • Oral copulation with a person under eighteen years
  • Oral copulation by force or fear
  • Forcible sexual penetration of a minor

Waiting Period to Petition for a Certificate of Rehabilitation 

To apply for a COR, you must prove a sufficient rehabilitation period. The satisfactory rehabilitation period is defined as a five-year uninterrupted residency in California and a five-year additional period depending on the nature of your crimes. Often, the rehabilitation time begins when:

  • You complete your probation or parole
  • You are released from mandatory supervision or community supervision

The waiting periods for different offenses are as follow:

Nine years

Some offenses require you to wait up to nine years before applying for a COR. The nine years account for the five years of residency and four years of rehabilitation. Some of these offenses include:

  • Aggravated kidnapping
  • Murder
  • Wrecking or derailing a train
  • Aggravated assault
  • Use of destructive devices to cause death or serious physical injury
  • Failing to act or acting in a manner that causes another person’s death
  • Offenses that carry a life sentence

Ten Years

For some crimes, the law mandates that you wait ten years after a release from supervision to file for a COR. After five years of residency in California, you must spend another five years of rehabilitation. Crimes that require a ten-year waiting period are those that require sex offender registration except:

  • Violation of California PC 311.2 on child pornography
  • Child sexual exploitation
  • Indecent exposure

Seven Years

You must wait seven years to petition for the certificate for other felony offenses that do not fall under the category of a nine-year or ten-year waiting period.

Exceptions to the Waiting Period

A judge has a right to grant your application for the rehabilitation certificate before you complete the waiting period if the action serves the interests of justice. However, it is vital to understand that the waiver will not apply to your case if you were convicted for an offense requiring sex-offender registration.

Application Process for a Certificate of Rehabilitation

If you meet the eligibility criteria and have complied with the waiting period, you can petition the court for a COR through the following steps:

File the Necessary Paperwork

Acquiring a COR officially begins when you secure, complete, and submit the documents to the superior court. Some of the documents include:

  • Petition for a rehabilitation certificate and pardon
  • Notice of Filing the petition

Even when you seek a COR for multiple crimes, you will only file a single petition. The reason for filling out forms on a pardon is that receiving the certificate is the initial step in seeking a governor’s pardon.

Obtain Copies of your Criminal Record

With the petition for the certificate and pardon, you must submit information on each crime for which you seek the certificate. Information that you must supply to the court includes:

  • The specific charge for which you were convicted
  • The dates for each conviction
  • The nature of your sentence
  • The county where you faced each conviction
  • Dates of release from jail or prison
  • The dates of your discharge from parole or probation

You can obtain the above information from the court where the convictions occurred or through the Department of Justice. Application for a COR is free in California. However, the DOJ charges you up to $25 to release your record.

Gather Evidence of Rehabilitation

The court grants a certificate of rehabilitation to applicants who can prove rehabilitation from their criminal ways. Some of the evidence that could support your assertion of successful rehabilitation include:

  • Evidence of residency in California for the required duration of time
  • Proof of consistent employment or education
  • Proof of volunteer work
  • Evidence that you have competed for domestic violence and drug counseling
  • Proof of participation in behavioral therapy
  • A statement indicating your reasons for seeking the COR
  • Recommendation letters from employers, family, workers, educators, and prison psychologists

Attend your COR Hearing

The court schedules a hearing where the judge decides whether granting you the certificate of rehabilitation is wise. Before holding the hearing, the court notifies the governor’s office and the district attorney from the county where the conviction happened. These parties could choose to contest or not to contest your petition.

Mostly, the court requires that you appear for the hearing. At this hearing, your attorney will present evidence in favor of the certificate. A skilled attorney can meet prosecutors or the DA before the hearing to gain their support. The case will take longer if the district attorney does not favor your petition.

In addition to reviewing the above evidence, the court considers the following factors when deciding on your petition:

  • Your prison records
  • The time that has passed since you completed your sentence
  • Records for your trial and court proceedings
  • Strength of your family and community ties
  • Arguments presented by the district attorney’s office regarding your petition

If the court grants you a COR after the hearing, a copy of the certificate is forwarded to:

  • The parole board
  • Office of the governor
  • The Department of Justice
  • California supreme court. This happens when you have multiple felony convictions.

Issuance of a certificate of rehabilitation means that you have automatically applied for a governor’s pardon. Some of the additional benefits that a governor’s pardon offers you include:

  • Prevent harsh immigration consequences like deportation
  • Restore your gun rights

Understanding that the government could deny you a pardon even after receiving the COR is vital. Often individuals with multiple felony convictions will not receive a pardon.

Benefits Offered by a Certificate of Rehabilitation in California

Acquiring a COR is a great step towards building back your life following a felony conviction in California. Some of the benefits you will accrue from this certificate include:

  • Hard evidence to prove to employers that you are rehabilitated
  • The courts could prohibit employers from asking you about your convictions
  • Restoration of your civil rights
  • Enhancement of your ability to seek a professional license
  • Prevents the courts from using the convictions to impeach you as a witness

Sometimes, a COR helps relieve you from the requirement to register a sex offender as long as you are no longer in custody and your offense does not involve:

  • Assault to commit a sex offense
  • Kidnapping to commit rape, sodomy, or oral copulation
  • Sexual battery
  • Continuous child sexual abuse
  • Molesting or annoying a child
  • Human trafficking of a minor
  • Felony pandering or pimping

A rehabilitation certificate has its limits and cannot do any of the following:

  • Prevent a conviction from being used against you as a “prior.”
  • Reinstate your rights under the 2nd Amendment
  • Allow you to deny a conviction when a potential employer asks about it
  • Expunge your criminal record

Frequently Asked Questions on the Certificate of Rehabilitation in California.

A certificate of rehabilitation is a powerful tool as you try to rejoin society and move on with your life following a felony conviction in California. However, the process of obtaining this certificate could be tedious and challenging. The following are some frequently asked questions on California Penal Code 4852:

  • Can the court deny my petition for a rehabilitation certificate?

Yes. Not all individuals who apply for this certificate will receive it. Some of the reasons why the court could deny your petition include:

  • Inaccuracy in your court files
  • Inaccuracy of the documents you present for the petition
  • The court fails to believe that this form of relief is beneficial for the society
  • You violated your probation
  • You did not complete the payment for court-ordered fines
  • Do I need to expunge my conviction before applying for a certificate of rehabilitation?

If you served a prison sentence after your felony conviction, you are not eligible to expunge your conviction under California PC 1203,4. Therefore, an expungement is not required before you file for a rehabilitation certificate.

However, if the court sentenced you to county jail instead of state prison following a felony conviction, you must seek an expungement of your record before filing a petition for this certificate. However, the court only grants an expungement if you have completed your probation.

  • How long must I wait to receive my certificate of rehabilitation?

Obtaining a rehabilitation certificate takes a maximum of seven or eight months. However, the time varies depending on the circumstances of your case. Some of the factors that could affect the length of the process for your case include:

  • The amount of time that has elapsed since your conviction
  • Whether or not the district attorney is objecting to your petition. Objection from the district attorney can delay the outcome of your petition. However, a skilled attorney can help you gather all documents and evidence that the DA needs to push the case forward.
  • What should I do if the court denies my petition?

Denial of your petition to obtain a rehabilitation certificate does not mean that you will live with the disabilities of your conviction forever. Your attorney can help you evaluate the reason for the denial, correct the mistakes, obtain additional evidence, and then refile the petition.

  • What is the difference between an expungement and a certificate of rehabilitation?

Expunging a criminal conviction removes the conviction from your record, and you can answer no when a potential employer asks about them. However, the expungement will not make a statement on your character or the progress you have made following a conviction. On the other hand, a certificate does not remove the conviction from your record. Instead, it updates the record and offers a strong statement that you are rehabilitated and have left the criminal conduct behind.

  • Do I need an attorney when filing for a rehabilitation certificate?

The laws on eligibility and filing for a certificate of rehabilitation are complex. Additionally, there are numerous legal documents you need to obtain and present with your petition. If you make a mistake in filing, the court could deny your petition. This means you must try again and delay receiving the certificate. For this reason, it is highly recommended that you move forward with the guidance of a skilled attorney. 

Your attorney ensures that all the supporting documents accompanying your petition are correct and you file the petition on time. Additionally, an experienced attorney knows how to deal with opposition for the district attorney.

Other Options to Clear your Criminal Record in California

There are other ways through which you can reduce the impact of a criminal record on your life, including:

Reduction of a Felony to a Misdemeanor

The consequences of a felony conviction are far worse than those of a misdemeanor conviction for the same offense. If you face a felony conviction after wobbler charges in California, you can file a PC17(b) motion to reduce the felony to a misdemeanor. There are several requirements that you must meet for a successful PC 17(b) motion, including:

  • The underlying offense is a California wobbler. A wobbler is a crime that attracts either felony or misdemeanor charges.
  • You served probation. In most cases, the court offers probation for non-violent, first-time offenders. Therefore, probation must have been part of your sentence when you file a motion to have your felony reduced to a misdemeanor.

Some of the benefits you enjoy following a successful PC 17(b) motion include:

  • You can honestly deny having faced a felony conviction
  • Obtaining a professional license is easier with a misdemeanor conviction on your record
  • You regain your civil rights
  • Restoration of your gun rights


Under California PC 1203.4, an expungement is a legal proceeding where the court allows you to withdraw the guilty plea for a not guilty plea and dismiss your case. When the court grants you the expungement, you are relieved from all the burdens and disabilities accompanying the conviction. Unfortunately, you can only receive the expungement if:

  • You have completed your probation successfully
  • You are not serving a sentence or probation for another offense
  • You served time in jail instead of prison after your conviction.

Like the certificate of rehabilitation, obtaining an expungement requires filing a petition with the necessary paperwork and attending a hearing. A successful expungement means that:

  • Employers cannot discriminate against you based on the expunged conviction
  • You retain your right to serve on the jury
  • An expunged conviction cannot be used to impeach you as a witness in a court case

After an expungement, it is essential to understand that the conviction remains a public record. However, the disabilities associated with it are lower.

Sealing your Records

If you faced an arrest but weren’t convicted for the crime in California, you have a right to have your records sealed and destroyed. Records that the court will destroy in this case include:

  • Fingerprints
  • The police report
  • Mugshot
  • Rap sheet entries

The process of sealing your arrest record takes place in three main steps:

  • File a petition in the city where the arrest occurred
  • The petition is served on the police and prosecuting agency
  • You attend a hearing, and the judge decides on the petition

You are eligible to seal your record under PC 851.87 if:

  • The prosecution did not file charges against you following an arrest
  • Charges were filed, but your case was dismissed
  • You were found not guilty after a trial
  • The court of appeal overturned your conviction

Unlike other forms of relief, a sealed arrest record is not accessible to the public.

Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

It is challenging to rejoin society and become a productive member with a criminal conviction hanging over your head. Since the conviction becomes a public record, anyone who does a background check on you will see it and may use it to discriminate against you. Obtaining a certificate of rehabilitation is one of the many ways you can clear your criminal history. 

Although the rehabilitation certificate does not remove the conviction from your record, it will protect you from some of the disabilities associated with it. Obtaining your rehabilitation certificate involves filing a petition and attending a hearing. Therefore, the guidance of an experienced attorney is beneficial throughout this process.

At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we understand the challenges of rejoining society after a conviction in California. Therefore, we will employ our extensive knowledge and experience to guide you through the petition for a certificate of rehabilitation and ensure the best possible outcome. We serve clients seeking legal guidance and representation in Riverside, CA. Call us at 951-946-6366 and allow us to guide you through the challenging situation.