Robert Downey Jr. pardoned for felony drug conviction that sent him to prison

File photo of actor Robert Downey Jr. Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Disney

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The governor of California pardoned Robert Downey Jr. on Thursday for a nearly 20-year-old felony drug conviction that sent the Oscar-nominated actor to jail for nearly a year.

Downey was among 91 people granted pardons for criminal convictions after demonstrating they had rehabilitated themselves and been out of custody for at least 10 years, Gov. Jerry Brown’s office announced.

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The pardon does not erase records of a conviction, but it restores voting rights and is a public proclamation that the person has remained out of trouble and demonstrated “exemplary behaviour,” according to materials on Brown’s website.

Downey, who was once a courthouse mainstay for a series of drug-related arrests, has become perhaps Hollywood’s greatest success story for career and addiction rehabilitation.

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Robert Downey Jr. seen above in August 1999 in the first of three mug shots for drug-related convictions. Handout

Since 2008, Downey has portrayed “Iron Man” in Disney’s series of blockbuster films, including “The Avengers,” based on the Marvel comic books.

The 50-year-old actor is a two-time Oscar nominee for his roles in 1992’s “Chaplin” and 2008’s “Tropic Thunder.”

Downey’s legal troubles began in June 1996 when he was stopped for speeding on the Pacific Coast Highway in Los Angeles County and authorities found cocaine, heroin and a pistol in his vehicle.

In 1999, he was sent to prison for roughly a year after he acknowledged violating his probation.

Downey obtained the pardon after getting a judge to issue a Certificate of Rehabilitation, according to a proclamation released by Brown’s office.

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The process showed Downey has “lived an honest and upright life, exhibited good moral character, and conducted himself as a law-abiding citizen,” the proclamation said. It also states Downey “has paid his debt to society and earned a full and unconditional pardon.”

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An email sent to Downey’s agent, Jim Toth, and a call to his attorney, Blair Berk, were not immediately returned.

The Democratic governor, a former Jesuit seminarian, has made it a practice to issue pardons around Christian religious holidays, also including Easter.

The hundreds of pardons Brown has issued in each of his four terms are typical, except for his three immediate predecessors. Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger granted 15, Democrat Gray Davis granted none, and Republican Pete Wilson granted 13.

Before them, Republican Ronald Reagan granted nearly 600, and the GOP’s George Deukmejian, more than 300, according to Brown’s office.

McCartney reported from Los Angeles.