Los Angeles-area prosecutors are joining other district attorneys to use technology to wipe out or reduce as many as 50,000 old marijuana convictions years after California voters broadly legalized the drug.
The county is working with the Code for America nonprofit tech organization, which uses computer algorithms to find eligible cases that are otherwise hard to identify in decades-old court documents. It comes after San Francisco found success clearing convictions, which other cities and states nationwide said they will try to do.
“This collaboration will improve people’s lives by erasing the mistakes of their past and hopefully lead them on a path to a better future,” L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in a statement Monday.
Some marijuana-related convictions in Long Beach fall under Lacey’s jurisdiction while others fall under the jurisdiction of the city prosecutor’s office, which generally handles local misdemeanors.
“Long Beach will definitely benefit from what the district attorney is doing,” said City Prosecutor Doug Haubert.
The Long Beach city prosecutor’s office can also help clear records for those who are eligible through the city’s RISE (Restoration Initiative for Safety and Employment) program.
“RISE does more than assist with cannabis related convictions—it helps people who are eligible get access to a wide range of post-conviction relief,” said Haubert. “People who want to put the past behind them so they can get a job or move into a better job, or who want the peace of mind knowing that a small mistake they made 20 years ago won’t come back to haunt them, they will benefit from RISE.”
San Joaquin County also announced its partnership with Code for America to remove up to 4,000 cases.
California voters approved eliminating some pot-related crimes and wiping out past criminal convictions or reducing felonies to misdemeanors when they legalized adult marijuana use in 2016.
But there was no easy way to identify an estimated 200,000 cases statewide. Convicts had to file petitions on their own to get their records changed or hire lawyers for help with the process.
After partnering with Code for America, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon announced last month that 9,300 cases dating to 1975 will be dropped or reduced for free and in many cases, without the convicts’ knowledge.
It began when his office started sifting through thousands of criminal cases last year to identify eligible marijuana convictions after only 23 people who hired lawyers had taken advantage of the new law.
A few months later, after managing to dismiss just over 1,000 cases during the painstaking work, Gascon partnered with Code for America, a San Francisco group that uses technology to make government more efficient.
Computer coders with the group developed the Clear My Record algorithm to quickly identify eligible cases and automatically fill out forms to file with the courts.
“When we do this right, we show that government can make good on its promises, especially for the hundreds of thousands who have been denied jobs, housing and other opportunities despite the passage of laws intended to provide relief,” said Jennifer Pahlka, executive director of Code for America.
“Clear My Record changes the scale and speed of justice and has the potential to ignite change across the state and the nation,” she said.
Prosecutors in Baltimore, Seattle, Chicago and other cities have said they also would clear eligible marijuana convictions. In legalizing pot last year, Michigan said it would eliminate pot crimes and allow past convictions to be erased or reduced.
Stephanie Rivera contributed to this report.
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