Capitol Alert

Robert Downey Jr. among Jerry Brown’s 91 Christmas pardons

Robert Downey Jr., left, is introduced at the 9th Annual California Hall of Fame induction ceremonies at the California Museum in Sacramento, Calif. on Oct. 28, 2015. Gov. Jerry Brown is at right.
Robert Downey Jr., left, is introduced at the 9th Annual California Hall of Fame induction ceremonies at the California Museum in Sacramento, Calif. on Oct. 28, 2015. Gov. Jerry Brown is at right. jvillegas@sacbee.com

Actor Robert Downey Jr. was among 91 former criminals Gov. Jerry Brown pardoned on Thursday in keeping with his habit of holiday leniency.

In seeking and receiving official clemency, Downey wrote the latest chapter in a redemption story that has seen him rebound from years of substance abuse to re-establish himself as a high-grossing Hollywood star.

The “Iron Man” star spent a year and three months in prison after being convicted in 1996 of possessing a controlled substance, carrying a concealed weapon in his vehicle and driving under the influence. He also made headlines that year for being arrested after wandering into a neighbor’s home and falling asleep.

Downey, 50, contributed $5,000 to Brown’s 2014 re-election bid and was inducted this year into the California Hall of Fame. He also gave about $50,000 this year to a charter school the Democratic governor started when he was mayor of Oakland – the Oakland School for the Arts.

“He has lived an honest and upright life, exhibited good moral character, and conducted himself as a law-abiding citizen,” Brown’s pardon message read, the standard language used in all pardons.

Shortly before Brown publicly announced the pardon, Downey posted a video of himself on Twitter with the phrase “You're only on the naughty list if you get caught ...”

To be eligible for a pardon, people must have been out of prison for at least a decade, avoided committing new crimes and, if they still reside in California, have received a court-granted Certificate of Rehabilitation. Anyone applying must have since led a “productive and law-abiding life,” according to terms laid out by the Governor’s Office.

Actor Robert Downey Jr. was inducted into the California Hall of Fame on Oct. 28, 2015.

Most of the people Brown pardoned had served time for drug-related crimes or for low-level offenses such as vandalism. One man served a year of probation for obtaining a fake ID so he could work at a nightclub.

The list of past crimes covered by Thursday’s pardons includes 10 burglaries, 10 robberies and one count apiece of manslaughter and attempted voluntary manslaughter. One man was sentenced in 1998 for kidnapping, among other offenses, and spent two years and nine months in prison.

Another three people were convicted of assault with a deadly weapon, including a man sentenced in 1978 for discharging his gun into the ground while speaking to a police officer who had been called to his home. Three people incurred arson convictions. Six people were convicted of grand theft. One served two years and four months in prison for carjacking armed with a BB gun.

Four of the past offenders were convicted in Sacramento County. Their respective offenses: a 1988 criminal conspiracy sentence, a 1995 sentence for force or assault with a deadly weapon, a 1997 sentence for robbery and a 1984 sentence for possession of a controlled substance for sale.

Other area offenders included a man sentenced in Placer County in 2000 for planting or cultivating marijuana. Three more were convicted in San Joaquin County – including a man who served five years of probation, starting in 1985, after taking a golf cart without permission and damaging it.

Pardons can carry benefits such as allowing recipients to serve on juries, owning firearms if their offense didn’t involve a dangerous weapon, and working as county probation officers or state parole agents.

They do not erase or seal a person’s criminal record. If asked on employment forms about criminal history, pardoned offenders can’t say they have no past convictions. If they commit new crimes, their pardoned offenses would still be considered prior convictions, potentially bringing enhanced sentences.

Brown has made a habit of issuing pardons around Christmas and Easter. He has far outpaced his last three predecessors in the Governor’s Office, who combined for 28. Thursday’s batch brought his total to 683 since 2011.

The governor rescinded one of last year’s Christmas Eve pardons after the Los Angeles Times reported that the pardon’s recipient had recently had a case before the federal Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.

Peruse the full list here:

Jeremy B. White: 916-326-5543, @CapitolAlert. Jim Miller and Alexei Koseff of the Bee Capitol Bureau contributed reporting.

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