Clearing of Past Marijuana Crimes Moves Forward Across California

UPDATES

10/21: Why Is California Failing Thousands of People With Cannabis Records?
(The lede seems to say that a deadline has passed to clear records; in fact, as the article says further down, the courts still have no deadline to act.)

Marin County DA drops, reduces 500 cannabis cases
People with past marijuana convictions in Marin County can check their eligibility for expungement by reaching Marin’s Assistant District Attorney Otis Bruce at (415) 473-6450.

9/21: Los Angeles District Attorney to Vacate Some 60,000 Marijuana Convictions

6/21: California’s Expungement Battle: What’s Working & What’s Not in the Fight for Cannabis Record Clearance
In a statement provided to Ember, Attorney General Bonta noted that “too many Californians have been treated unfairly as a result of the many broken parts of our criminal justice system. They deserve more justice, more humanity, and a second chance.” He added that AB-1793 “is a bill that seeks to right a historic wrong,” and that he is “excited to play a role in seeing through as Attorney General.”

“The California Department of Justice and local agencies have been hard at work since the law’s passage in 2018, but there’s much still to be done,” he added. “As the People’s Attorney, I will do all I can to ensure all those with qualifying cannabis-related convictions have their records dismissed, sealed, or redesignated.”

Watch Cal NORML’s April 7, 2021 Zoom meeting with Alia Toran-Burrell, Associate Program Director, Criminal Justice at Code for America.

UPDATE 3/21: Code for America reports that half of California counties have used their Clear My Record tool, resulting in 140,000 past marijuana convictions identified as qualifying for being reduced or dismissed. In addition to the government-facing application, Clear My Record has also created a user-facing app that helps residents in 14 California counties find attorneys to help with the petition process to clear records. (Those counties are: Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno, Marin, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano, Sonoma, Stanislaus, Ventura & Yolo. Cal NORML’s legal committee attorneys can also help with expungement processes.

Code for America recommends that someone who thinks they have an eligible conviction (to be automatically cleared) contact the DA or public defender in the county in which their conviction is to see whether their conviction has been identified by the DA to be automatically cleared. They’ll then have to confirm with that county court the status of that cleared conviction (i.e. has it already been cleared by the court, is it in the process of being cleared, etc.)

Thousand of marijuana convictions officially reduced, others dismissed in San Diego County
Excerpt: With the wave of a pen by a Superior Court judge, nearly 26,000 people with felony marijuana convictions on their records had them reduced to less-onerous misdemeanor convictions last month. In addition some 1,000 people with misdemeanor marijuana convictions had those cases completely dismissed. The moves came in a three-page order signed by San Diego Superior Court Judge Eugenia Eyherabide on Feb. 5. 

While the charges have been altered it may take some time to update individual court records to reflect the changes and the court system is now working through those logistics. The Public Defender’s Office through its Fresh Start program can help people clearing their records, said Deputy Public Defender Kate Braner. Though Eyherabide’s order took effect immediately, the lag time to update individual records could cause problems for people who undergo background checks or license or checks for certain licenses that rely on scouring court records. That program can be contacted at Fresh.Start@sdcounty.gov.

A follow-up story from the same reporter found that of the 5000 cases eligible for resentencing or dismissal announced by the San Diego city attorney, only 500 have qualified for action. 

UPDATE 1/21: Four years later, California courts are failing on key promise of marijuana legalization – Sacramento Bee Editorial Board
Excerpt: Today, thousands of Californians could still be rejected by an employer, denied a loan, disqualified from housing or deemed ineligible for public benefits because of marijuana convictions that remain on their records. Under state law, such convictions should have been removed.

Assembly Bill 1793, authored by Democrat Rob Bonta of Alameda, was designed to help affected Californians clear their records. The bill created an automatic expungement process that gave the state Department of Justice and local prosecutors until last July to reduce, dismiss or contest marijuana convictions.

Unfortunately, courts in most of California’s 58 counties — which must take the step of clearing old convictions before the process is complete — were given no such deadline and have not prioritized the issue. Now, as many as 113,000 residents may still have marijuana convictions on their record in the court system. This is an inexcusable failure by California’s justice system.

June 28, 2020 – Proposition 64 (the Adult Use of Marijuana Act or AUMA), which California voters passed in November 2016, allowed people with past marijuana convictions to petition the court for expungement or resentencing. AB 1793 (Bonta), to automatically expunge or resentence certain past marijuana crimes without requiring the filing of a petition, passed and was signed into law in 2018, and is codified as Ca Health & Safety Code 11361.9.

Under the new state law, the state Department of Justice identified past convictions that are potentially eligible for recall or dismissal of sentence, dismissal and sealing, or redesignation pursuant to Section 11361.8. The DOJ notified county District Attorneys of all cases in their jurisdiction that are eligible, and the prosecutors had until July 1, 2020 to review all cases and inform the court and the public defender’s office in their county that they are challenging a particular case.

The law states, “If the prosecution does not challenge the recall or dismissal of sentence, dismissal and sealing, or redesignation by July 1, 2020, the court shall reduce or dismiss the conviction pursuant to Section 11361.8. The court shall notify the DOJ and the department shall modify the state summary criminal history information database accordingly….The DOJ shall post general information on its Internet Web site about the recall or dismissal of sentences, dismissal and sealing, or redesignation authorized in this section.”

HOW ARE COUNTIES COMPLYING?

Even before the state law took effect, SF District Attorney George Gascon announced in February 2019 he would release over 9,000 past marijuana convictions for resentencing or expungement. After Gascon challenged Los Angeles DA Jackie Lacey for re-election, she announced LA will move to expunge 66,000 past convictions.

In Santa Clara County, a judge has already signed off on more than 13,000 marijuana convictions, affecting more than 9,000 people, well more than the 3,068 cases released by DOJ. Santa Cruz county’s DA announced he would release 1,169 marijuana cases involving 1,085 defendants, fewer than the 2,187 DOJ-released number.

Cal NORML legal committee attorneys Bill Panzer and Omar Figueroa point out that some marijuana crimes are still being charged as felonies, or not expunged, under Health and Safety Codes 11366 [maintaining a place] & § 11366.5 [storing], along with Penal Code Sections 182 [conspiracy], and 32 [accessory after the fact], not to mention civil asset forfeiture over marijuana. The DOJ sent a supplemental list of marijuana cases under these codes plus PC 644 [attempted crime], citing People v. Medina, which says a court has discretion in resentencing  marijuana conspiracy crimes (while refusing to do so for defendant Medina, who had prior convictions and pleaded guilty to possession 35 pounds for sale). Another case, People v. Boatright allowed resentencing for marijuana cultivation despite 4 grams of methamphetamine being found on the site.

Humboldt County‘s DA chose to include H&SC 11366 & 11366.5 violations in releasing cases to the court; however, she released only half the number cases identified by DOJ. By contrast, Mendocino‘s DA released three times as many cases as DOJ found, using his own computer program to find eligible cases.

The Orange County Register reported that the LA DA’s is challenging 2,142 convictions flagged by the DOJ. Under the law, the public defender’s office, upon receiving notice from the DA, shall “make a reasonable effort to notify the person whose resentencing or dismissal is being challenged.” If the prosecution does not challenge the recall or dismissal of sentence, “the court shall notify the department [of justice],” which “shall post general information on its Internet Web site about the recall or dismissal of sentences, dismissal and sealing, or redesignation authorized in this section.”

Contra Costa County, which released cases for resentencing in January, has set up an email address where people may write to find out if their case is among those sent to the court. Sonoma County says, “To find out if your record has been cleared, contact the Law Offices of the Sonoma County Public Defender or the Sonoma County Superior Court.” The DOJ says, “If you are looking for information regarding a past conviction and want to know if the prosecuting agency is reviewing your case, please contact either the district attorney’s office or the public defender’s office in the county of conviction.” You can also request your own criminal record.

Below is a table with the number of past convictions released to each county by the DOJ, with links to their status (as we know it).

DOJ Records Released 7/19County
7,466Alameda
37Alpine
243Amador
1,377Butte
274Calaveras
263Colusa
2,568Contra Costa
335Del Norte
1,013El Dorado
3,129Fresno
319Glenn
1,611Humboldt
1,632Imperial
211Inyo
3,214Kern
631Kings
549Lake
220Lassen
57,341Los Angeles
921Madera
526Marin
253Mariposa
1,330Mendocino
847Merced
114Modoc
136Mono
1,482Monterey
681Napa
632Nevada
12,303Orange
1,354Placer
164Plumas
7,035Riverside
5,408Sacramento
280San Benito
10,176San Bernardino
1,266San Diego
2,235San Francisco
1,271San Joaquin
7,785San Luis Obispo
25,991San Mateo
5,312Santa Barbara
3,068Santa Clara
2,187Santa Cruz
1,781Shasta
58Sierra
537Siskiyou
1,830Solano
2,272Sonoma
2,045Stanislaus
279Sutter
859Tehama
558Trinity
2,540Tulare
476Tuolumne
1,514Ventura
760Yolo
391Yuba
191,090TOTAL

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