If you have a felony DUI conviction on your record in California, you might want to consider applying for a Certificate of Rehabilitation (COR). There are several benefits of receiving a certificate that might avoid some of the long-term consequences of a DUI conviction. If you are unsure whether you need a COR, you can ask your California DUI attorney after you resolve your drunk driving charges.
What is a Certificate of Rehabilitation?
The COR has some of the same benefits as a governor’s pardon, but not as many benefits as you receive from a full pardon by the governor. However, the state treats the certificate as an automatic application for a pardon by the governor. A Certificate of Rehabilitation does not clear your criminal record. However, it does show that you are now a law-abiding citizen.
One of the main benefits of a Certificate of Rehabilitation is to help prevent being denied a professional license based solely on a DUI conviction. With a Certificate of Rehabilitation, you can make a case to a prospective employer, landlord, or college that although you made a poor choice by drinking and driving, you learned a lesson.
Another benefit of obtaining a certificate is to avoid the requirement to register with the California sex offender’s registry for many people charged with a misdemeanor sex offense.
However, some sex crimes are not eligible to receive a Certificate of Rehabilitation. Only a full governor’s pardon would avoid the requirement to register as a sex offender for individuals convicted of those crimes.
Am I Eligible to Receive a Certificate of Rehabilitation After My DUI Conviction?
You must meet specific requirements to be eligible to receive a certificate. Your California DUI defense lawyer can review the qualifications in more detail, but generally you:
- Cannot have served time in county jail or prison or otherwise been incarcerated for a new criminal offense since the completion or dismissal of your sentence;
- Are not currently on probation for a felony offense;
- Were a resident of California for at least five continuous years immediately before you apply for a Certificate of Rehabilitation; AND,
- Have been rehabilitated, generally for a specific number of years.
Additionally, one of the following must apply to the offense:
- You were convicted of a felony and sentenced to serve time in prison or another state penal agency or institution; OR,
- You were convicted of a felony that resulted in probation, and the state expunged the conviction; OR,
- You were convicted of a misdemeanor sex crime listed in Penal Code §290, and the state expunged the conviction.
Several crimes or situations make a person ineligible to receive a Certificate of Rehabilitation. For example, you cannot receive a COR if you are serving mandatory life parole, are in the military, or are sentenced to death. In addition, misdemeanor offenses other than a sex offense in Penal Code §290 are ineligible for a certificate.
Federal crimes and crimes committed outside California’s jurisdiction are ineligible for a Certificate of Rehabilitation. In addition, specific sex crimes are ineligible, and the court might determine a person ineligible if they are a continuing threat to a minor.
How Long is the Waiting Period to Obtain a Certificate of Rehabilitation for a Felony DUI Conviction?
Generally, a satisfactory period of rehabilitation is five years as a California resident plus an additional two to five years. However, the exact rehabilitation period depends on several factors, including the criminal offense.
The waiting period for applying for a COR does not begin until you complete:
- Probation or parole;
- Community supervision; OR
- Mandatory supervision
In other words, you must complete every term of your criminal sentence before the period of rehabilitation begins. Serious criminal offenses may require a minimum waiting period of nine to ten years. Most other offenses require a seven-year waiting period.
The court may find that you have not waited long enough to prove you are rehabilitated. If so, you may need to wait longer and refile the petition.
How Do I Apply for a Certificate of Rehabilitation After a DUI Conviction?
You must file a petition with the Superior Court in the county where you reside. The petition for a Certificate of Rehabilitation must include a copy of your criminal record.
The criminal record must include details about each DUI conviction you wish to include in the Certificate of Rehabilitation. The California Department of Justice provides copies of criminal records. There is a $25 fee for a copy of your criminal record.
The court does not charge a fee for a petition for a Certificate of Rehabilitation. You may pay an attorney to file the petition or file the petition without a lawyer. However, an experienced attorney understands the requirements for obtaining a certificate and how to present a compelling argument that you are rehabilitated.
Generally, the court schedules a hearing for your petition. The court provides notice of the hearing to the governor’s office and the district attorney for the county of each conviction.
At the hearing, you present evidence of your rehabilitation. Support from the original prosecutor’s office can provide strong support for granting a Certificate of Rehabilitation. However, the judge considers all relevant factors when deciding to grant a certificate, including:
- Evidence you attend school or have a job
- Your education and work history
- Letters of recommendation
- Proof of residence
- Evidence of volunteer work
- A statement explaining why you want a Certificate of Rehabilitation
- Prison and probation records
- The original trial and court proceedings
- Your ties to family and the community
- The length of time since you completed your sentence and/or probation
The court also listens to the arguments for or against granting the certificate made by the district attorney. If the court grants the COR, it forwards the certificate to the governor’s office, California Department of Justice, and the Board of Parole Hearings. If you have two or more DUI felonies, the court sends the certificate to the California Supreme Court.
Receiving a Certificate of Rehabilitation is an automatic application for a governor’s pardon. You do not need to take any further action. Receiving a pardon from the governor for a DUI felony conviction means restoring your gun rights, voting rights, and other privileges you lost because of a felony conviction.
If the court denies your application for a Certificate of Rehabilitation, you can appeal the decision. However, the court charges a fee to file an appeal. So most people wait and try again at a later date.
How Can I Avoid the Need for a Certificate of Rehabilitation After Being Arrested for DUI in California?
You have several options for avoiding the need to seek a Certificate of Rehabilitation. First, you can hire a California DUI lawyer to fight the drunk driving charges. A DUI arrest is not a conviction. Potential DUI defenses your attorney may raise include, but are not limited to:
- The alcohol in your system did not impair your ability to drive
- The police officer lacked probable cause for a traffic stop or DUI arrest
- The law enforcement officer threatened you if you did not take the field sobriety tests or the roadside breathalyzer test
- The lab used contaminated or fermented blood samples for chemical testing
- You have a medical condition that mimics intoxication with slurred speech and lack of coordination, such as epilepsy seizures or diabetes sugar lows
- A health condition causes a falsely high BAC level on a breath test, such as acid reflux, diabetes, or GERD
- The police officers stopped you at an illegal DUI checkpoint
A successful DUI defense strategy requires your assistance. Tell your lawyer everything. Do not talk to the police or answer questions without talking with a California DUI defense lawyer.
Drivers can refuse pre-arrest breath tests and field sobriety tests without penalty. However, there are enhanced penalties for a DUI conviction after refusing a post-arrest chemical test. Regardless, your attorney may discover one or more problems with the case that could result in the chemical test results being inadmissible.
Another way to avoid petitioning for a Certificate of Rehabilitation is to plead your DUI charges down to a misdemeanor charge. You could then apply for DUI expungement.
Most DUI convictions qualify for expungement. Expungement does not wipe the DUI from your driving record or erase it from your criminal record. However, an expungement in California removes the guilty verdict and dismisses the charges. Therefore, the only matter that appears on the criminal record is the DUI arrest, which can help you avoid some of the negative consequences of a DUI “conviction.”
Your attorney may have more success negotiating a favorable plea agreement than you if you represent yourself. The prosecutor does not tell defendants when they have valid defenses to drunk driving charges. They also do not tell you if there are weaknesses in the state’s case against you.
An attorney recognizes these facts and uses them to argue a better plea deal. A DUI plea agreement may include reduced charges and penalties. The best-case scenario for a plea deal is a dry reckless charge because it does not count as a priorable offense for future DUI convictions. Your DUI lawyer fights to get you the best outcome for your California DUI case.