By Brian Henry
Los Angeles plans to dismiss or reduce as many as 50,000 marijuana-related convictions, and the county's District Attorney said L.A. will meet California's July 2020 deadline for prosecutors to review cannabis convictions that might be eligible for expungement.
“We will beat the July 1 deadline by almost nine months,” Jackie Lacey, the District Attorney, told Cheddar in an interview Tuesday.
The speedy review was made possible by the nonprofit Code for America, which developed an algorithm that can immediately identify people whose marijuana convictions are eligible for expungement under California's cannabis legalization law.
The group was responsible for helping officials expunge over 9,000 cannabis convictions in San Francisco last month, some of which dated back to 1975. Lacey expects L.A. to do the same.
“We’re going to go back as far as our computer system will let us," she said, noting that Department of Justice records go back more than 70 years.
"We realize people who aren’t even alive when you go back to the 1940s, but certainly that population and age of people who have these convictions who are out there looking for housing, looking for a fresh start, we can predict what that age group is going to look like and prioritize and target those cases first," she said.
Not all prior convictions will be expunged.
“For instance, if you are a registered sex offender, if you have a violent conviction, or if you have been engaged in big-time trafficking over and over again, then you wouldn’t be eligible for relief,” Lacey said.
Lacey added that the District Attorney’s office didn’t have the resources to clear the convictions on its own, and that Code for America’s algorithm eliminated what would be a lengthy and expensive process to identify eligible cases.
“You needed a lawyer to understand the forms, you had to file them, you had to file them in the right court, you had to pay to get your record,” she said.
With automatic expungement, Lacey said, “there isn’t anything else based on this process that people who have a record would have to do.”
Since those with prior convictions don’t have to file any paperwork, they may not even realize their records were wiped clean. The D.A.'s office is still working on how to notify people when their records are expunged.
“Our next challenge is figuring out how to notify people without violating their privacy and advertising out there that they have these records," Lacey said. "We’re working with Code for America to look for a notification process but they won’t need to do anything.”
Lacey is hopeful that the city’s partnership with Code for America will continue.
“I do think that there are a lot of other situations where we may be able to use technology like this in order to clear convictions or respond to criminal justice reform,” she said.
For full interview click here.