Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced Thursday, Feb. 13 that nearly 66,000 marijuana convictions dating back as far as 1961 will be dismissed in the county as a result of a voter-approved ballot measure that decriminalizes the personal use of marijuana.
The county’s top prosecutor said she believes the move is the “largest effort in California to wipe out old criminal convictions in a single court motion.”
“As a result of our actions, these convictions should no longer burden those who have struggled to find a job or a place to live because of their criminal record,” Lacey said at a news conference at her downtown Los Angeles headquarters. “A felony conviction on your record can keep you from getting certain jobs that you’re qualified for, that you would be good for. Many times these convictions occur when people are young. You may not be the same person in your 40s and 50s that you were in your 20s and here you are trying to make a fresh start.”
The district attorney added that it is “unfair when you think about the number of people who are in the marijuana business legally now, legally, and think about the folks who sold way back in the day and they’re burdened with a felony conviction so this is a way of providing some justice to our society.”
Lacey — who is running for re-election — said the passage of Proposition 64 had directed California prosecutors to review and reduce felony convictions for marijuana cultivation, sales, transportation and possession for sale to misdemeanors, but said her office went a step further by asking that all eligible marijuana-related convictions be dismissed to “ensure that many more people would benefit from this historic moment in time.”
The expanded parameters for dismissal include people who are 50 or older, haven’t had a felony conviction in the past decade or have successfully completed probation in marijuana-related cases.
The cases that will be dismissed involve people convicted in 62,000 felonies in cases dating back as far as 1961 and about 4,000 misdemeanor cases filed in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Torrance, Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, Inglewood, Hawthorne, Santa Monica, Pasadena and Burbank.
About 53,000 people will be affected by the so-called “automatic record clearance pilot” program — with about 45% being Latinx, 32% black or African-American, 20% white and 3% other or unknown, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
The pilot program, dubbed California Clear My Record, stems from a partnership between the District Attorney’s Office and Code for America to use computer algorithms to find eligible cases that are otherwise hard to find in court documents that date back decades. Other counties participating in the pilot program — under which more than 85,000 eligible convictions will be dismissed or reduced — are San Francisco, Sacramento, San Joaquin and Contra Costa.
Evonne Silva, Code for America’s senior program director of criminal justice, said only a tiny fraction of those who are eligible under Proposition 64 have received relief as a result of a time consuming process to clear their records.
“Contact with the criminal justice system should not be a life sentence,” Silva said, noting that the organization is ready to help counties that haven’t yet used the technology, which is available at no cost and can analyze the eligibility for thousands of convictions within seconds.
Los Angeles County Public Defender Ricardo Garcia said clearing the convictions will help thousands of people to “move on with their lives and build a future free of [the] pain and suffering of a criminal conviction going back as far as 1961.”
“Dismissing these cases moves us in a direction of correcting injustices and damages from the past,” he said.
The cases would be dismissed and sealed, with those affected generally being able to say they have not been convicted of a crime, according to Assistant Public Defender Ruben Marquez, who noted that there is a “gray area” involving the impact on federal immigration proceedings.
The Public Defender’s Office has set up a hotline at 323-760-6763 for those who want to find out if their record has been cleared.