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County to Use Computer Technology to Dismiss Marijuana Convictions

Published on Thursday, February 13, 2020 | 10:02 am
Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, at left, and Pasadena City Attorney Michele Beal Bagneris.

Los Angeles County prosecutors will announce today they will use technology to wipe out about 66,000 old marijuana convictions.

Pasadena City Attorney/Prosecutor Michele Beal Bagneris was scheduled to attend the event.

“The dismissal of tens of thousands of old cannabis-related convictions in Los Angeles County will bring much-needed relief to communities of color that disproportionately suffered the unjust consequences of our nation’s drug laws,” District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in a statement.

Minorities have long been the target of marijuana arrests and drug busts and were prosecuted at higher numbers than whites during the war on drugs.

Code for America, a nonprofit tech organization, which uses computer algorithms to find eligible cases that are otherwise hard to identify in decades-old court documents. The group has offered its Clear My Record technology free to all 58 state district attorneys.

The computer program identifies eligible cases, and automatically fills out forms to file with the courts. It can analyze conviction eligibility for about 10,000 people per minute, instead of requiring county employees to dig through individual records.

District attorneys have until July to decide whether to dismiss sentences or fight reducing the convictions.

Prosecutors in Baltimore, Seattle, Chicago and other cities have said they also would clear eligible marijuana convictions.

About 32 percent of the people that will receive help under the county program are African American, 20 percent are white, 45 percent are Latino, and 3 percent are other or unknown, officials said.

Locally, the city has chosen six cannabis dispensaries to advance in the city’s process. That process included a social justice plan, but so far none of the dispensaries have announced if they planned to help people previously convicted of marijuana crimes to cleanse their record.

Prosecutors this week asked a Superior Court judge to dismiss 62,000 felony cannabis convictions for cases that date back to 1961.

The district attorney’s office also sought the dismissal of approximately 4,000 misdemeanor cannabis possession cases.
California voters approved eliminating some pot-related crimes and wiping out past criminal convictions or reducing felonies to misdemeanors when they legalized marijuana 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.

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