LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – In a sweeping move, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced that her office has asked the court to dismiss nearly 66,000 marijuana convictions going back decades.
In a news conference Thursday morning, Lacey called it the largest such undertaking in state history.
"We believe it is the largest effort in California to wipe out old criminal convictions in a single court motion," Lacey said.
Lacey said that when Proposition 64 passed in 2016 – which legalized marijuana in California -- prosecutors across the state were tasked with reducing past marijuana convictions from felonies down to misdemeanors. However, she says her office decided to go even further.
"I've instructed by deputy district attorneys to ask the court to dismiss all eligible cannabis-related convictions," Lacey said. "I also took the will of the voters one step further. I expanded the criteria to go above and beyond the parameters of the law to ensure that many more people will benefit from this historic moment in time."
Those eligible include anyone 50 years of age or older, anyone who has not been convicted of a crime in the last 10 years, anyone with a conviction who successfully completed probation and anyone with a conviction under the age of 21.
"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.
Of the total, about 62,000 were felony cannabis convictions and 3,700 were misdemeanor possession convictions, some of which had been separately prosecuted by 10 different cities in L.A. County, including Burbank, Pasadena, Inglewood, Santa Monica and Torrance.
The motion, which was filed Tuesday, also calls for the court to seal the convictions.
"If you have a record, you don't have to worry about even going through and having it sealed…We're making a motion to seal it because we realize that's the issue," Lacey said. "When you go to apply for a job, you go to apply for housing and you're record comes up, even though we've expunged it,that may not give you help."
The move comes just three weeks before the March 3 Primary Election where Lacey is in a heated fight to keep her position. Her seat is being challenged by George Gascon, the former San Francisco DA, along with Rachel Rossie, a former federal public defender. Lacey is hoping for a third term.
Lacey said the sheer volume of the undertaking has created major challenges for prosecutors, with some of the cases going back to 1961. The county worked with the nonprofit group Code for America to create an algorithm to find all the eligible convictions.
"It had to do with developing an algorithm and developing our criteria, we wanted to go above and beyond what Prop 64 required," Lacey said. "In working with Code For America, it took some time for them to develop a particular algorithm, find the right type of computer system to plug them in. In addition we wanted to go further and capture the misdemeanors."
Following the passage of Prop 64, in October of 2018 then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1793, which required the California Department of Justice to review its records for all cannabis convictions that are eligible to be expunged or reduced. That information was then passed on to all county prosecutors, who have until July 1, 2020, to review those cases and decide whether to challenge them.
People who want to know if there case are being cleared can contact the L.A. County Public Defender's Office, where a hotline has been established at 323-760-6763.
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