Expunging cannabis convictions

As part of Proposition 64, and a partnership with Code for America, more than 5,000 marijuana-related convictions meet the criteria for resentencing, but there may be more people that can still benefit

illustration by MARIA RATINOVA

If you are an individual with a prior marijuana-related charge and would like to check if you are on the list, contact Ryan Raftery at the Sacramento Public Defender’s office at (916) 874-5578.

The war on drugs has 4,831 fewer casualties than it did a month ago.

On April 22, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert announced that thousands in Sacramento who had been convicted of marijuana-related charges would benefit from convictions being reduced from felonies to misdemeanors or infractions or being completely dismissed sentences.

As part of Proposition 64 (the 2016 ballot measure that legalized recreational cannabis in California) and a partnership with Code for America (a nonprofit that helps the government effectively use technology to solve community problems) 5,303 convictions were flagged as meeting the criteria for resentencing—and according to local public defense attorney Ryan Raftery, there may be more people who can benefit.

“Just call me. If you’re name is not on the list and your charges don’t meet the criteria we can still see what we can do,” Raftery said. “We’ve already found one person who was missed in the initial sweep for whatever reason.”

So far, there are 4,831 individuals eligible and an unknown number who may have been skipped by the software, which was created by Code for America.

But there’s a problem.

The DA’s office has not been able to notify anyone that their charges are being dropped. The office did not respond to SN&R before press time.

“This is still a novel idea. The expungement process has started already for a lot of people, but the problem is notifying them: What specific government organization is responsible for that?” asked Nia MooreWeathers, a community organizer with Youth Forward and a member of the coalition that helped the DA’s office decide the guidelines for expungement.

“Do they have to come down to City Hall, or are they supposed to get an email notification or something sent to them through the mail?”

Raftery added that many of the convictions happened decades ago and that people may not have the same phone numbers or addresses listed in courthouse records.

“It might even be the problem of someone showing up at the courthouse to check their record and not being able to find themselves because they’ll no longer be in the system,” Raftery said. “Some people might also need a manual notification to show to an employer or in order to pass a background check, so it’s trickier than just wiping the system totally clean.”

It’s still unclear when the charges are going to be officially cleared from people’s records—Raftery estimates it will take a few months at the minimum—but the resentencing process is already underway.

“At this point, Code for America is working with IT people in the courthouse to get the software to work. The software—which is far from perfect—went in and found thousands of individuals who met the established criteria. So we’ve got a long list of names,” Raftery said. “…Even if they’re not on the list, though, I would still advise them to call me to see if I can reach out to the DA and have charges reduced on a case-by-case basis.”

The software found people who met the three criteria that were established for eligibility:

An individual has to have not committed a crime for the past 10 years.

The criminal offense was the only conviction on an individual’s criminal history, and parole or probation has already been served.

The misdemeanor or infraction happened when the individual was younger than 21.

“If it weren’t for Code for America, we would still be trying to clear these records simply because of a lack of resources,” MooreWeathers said. “It’s not a perfect system, though, and there may be people outside of that space that might still need resentencing.”

For many who had been convicted of minor marijuana charges, the future is bright.

“I was just talking to a former nurse who ended up losing her license to practice nursing because of her conviction. She told me that she’s already started the process to try and regain that license,” Raftery said. “That’s the goal of this whole thing: to increase the earning capacity for people who have been convicted in the past, to get them onto the job market without a criminal history.”

Sacramento is the fourth county in the state to take part in Code for America’s record clearance program and tens of thousands have already benefited across the state.

“I can’t do anything if I don’t know anything,” Raftery said. “People just have to call my office and I’ll see what I can do to help them.”