More than 11,500 marijuana convictions in Santa Clara County will be reduced or expunged next week as part of a mass-scale effort to dismiss drug violations now legal under California’s recreational marijuana laws.
Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, legalized the recreational use of marijuana and put in place a framework where people previously convicted of now-legal drug charges could get their convictions cleared. But it’s been slow-going up until now, requiring each person to file a petition and attend a hearing, a process that can take months.
Accelerating the process and making good on the 2016 law four years later, Superior Court Judge Eric Geffon will be wiping out the records of pot-related criminal convictions for some 9,000 people in Santa Clara County on Wednesday, April 29. A similar motion was announced in Los Angeles County in February, which would dismiss and seal records of 66,000 cases going back to 1961.
The sweeping court action has been in the works for several months, spearheaded by the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office with an eye toward expediency. Prosecutors sought to create a comprehensive, structured list of eligible convictions that can be pushed out en mass to the state’s criminal records database and get cleared in one week, rather than the typical monthslong process, said Assistant District Attorney David Angel.
Once criminal convictions are cleared, those who had a conviction on their record will have an easier time finding a job, which is particularly important in light of employment losses during the new coronavirus outbreak, Angel said. The mass dismissal will also take pressure off of the court system, which has been understaffed but nevertheless burdened by the need to clear marijuana convictions.
The list of convictions that qualified for reduction or dismissal has changed over time. In the summer, the California Department of Justice sent the district attorney’s office a list of convictions eligible for resentencing under AB 1793. But county prosecutors concluded the list was too narrow, failing to account for convictions that ought to be wiped clean, Angel said. People who were charged in another county, for example, didn’t make the cut.
“The list that we got from the Department of Justice, while helpful, was really under-inclusive and missed a number of people,” Angel said.
The district attorney’s revised list — a spreadsheet that has gone through multiple audits — includes roughly 13,000 cases, some of which will not be fully cleared. Certain felonies committed prior to Proposition 64 will only be reduced to misdemeanors.
Prosecutors have little flexibility in choosing which convictions to reduce or wipe out, Angel said. Marijuana use and possession charges that are now legal today are among those that will be cleared, while drug convictions involving environmental destruction or child endangerment would be ineligible.
“We certainly took a broad view of interpreting the law to allow relief but the law, Proposition 64, kind of dictates who is eligible and who is not,” he said.
Geffon is scheduled to expunge the convictions at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 29, in Department 41 of the Hall of Justice in San Jose.