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What is a pardon and how does the process work in California?



(KTXL) — In July, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced 17 pardons as part of several actions of executive clemency toward incarcerated and formerly incarcerated residents, increasing his total to nearly 130 pardons during his term in office. 

Since Newsom has served as California’s governor, he’s granted a total of 129 pardons, 123 commutations and 35 medical reprieves. 

In July, one of Newsom’s most notable pardons was for Sara Kruzan, who was convicted as a teenager for fatally shooting a man who had abused her and trafficked her for sex. 

Kruzan was sentenced to prison as a 16-year-old in 1995 in Riverside County Superior Court. She was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility for parole, but her sentence was later commuted by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

According to the governor’s office, a pardon doesn’t expunge or erase a conviction, but the person is relieved of the legal consequences of their conviction. 

So what, exactly, is a pardon?

According to the governor’s office, a pardon is relief from punishment and restoration of certain civic rights for people who have already served their sentence. 

Once a pardon is granted, the ruling “may remove counterproductive” barriers to employment and the public, restore the person’s civic rights and responsibilities and prevent deportation and permanent family separation and other consequences of a conviction, according to the governor’s office.

How does the pardon process work in California? 

People who have been convicted of a crime in California may apply for a governor’s pardon, but whoever is in office can’t grant a pardon for a conviction from another state or a federal proceeding. 

According to the governor’s office, there are two ways to apply for a pardon in the state: a certificate of rehabilitation and a direct pardon.

The application process through the certificate of rehabilitation is to first petition for and obtain the certification from the superior court in the county where the applicant lives. Once a court grants a petition through the certificate, it’s required to send the order to the governor’s office where it becomes an automatic application for a pardon. 

There’s no further action needed from the applicant unless they’re contacted by the governor’s office or the California’s Board of Parole Hearings, according to the governor’s website. 

As for applying for a direct pardon request from the governor, an application is submitted to the governor’s office and the applicant must notify the district attorney in the county where it’s submitted. 

The California Supreme Court will review the pardon application and all related documents sent by the governor’s office. 

According to the governor’s office, for a grant application to be granted to someone who has two or more felony convictions in different cases, a majority of the state’s Supreme Court must first recommend a grant of clemency. 

What is does the investigation and review process?

Before a pardon is granted, the Board of Parole hearings investigates applications for the governor’s office. Once the process is done, applicants are notified when the governor decides to take action on their application. 

When deciding to grant a pardon, here is what is considered during the investigation and review, according to the governor’s office: 

  • The impact of a pardon grant on the applicant’s family and community, including whether the grant is consistent with public safety and in the interests of justice and if any extraordinary circumstances justify restoration of firearm rights or a pardon in a sex offense case
  • The age and circumstances of the offense and the age of the applicant at the time
  • The applicant’s self-development and conduct since the convincing offense, including whether the applicant participated in rehabilitative programs and identified and addressed treatment needs
  • The applicant’s need for a pardon



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