San Joaquin, Los Angeles district attorneys seek to clear marijuana-related convictions

Two California prosecutors have teamed up with a nonprofit organization in an effort to clear the records of more than 50,000 people convicted of marijuana-related offenses.

San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar joined Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey in Los Angeles on Monday morning to announce their partnership with Code for America, a nonprofit organization that developed a system to examine a total of 54,000 marijuana convictions in the two counties that are eligible to be cleared.

Approximately 50,000 of those convictions are from Los Angeles County, while the remaining 4,000 are from San Joaquin County.

“Since the passage of Propositions 47 and 64, the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office, in partnership with the Public Defender’s Office and the Superior Court, have worked collaboratively to successfully implement the law in a timely and efficient manner,” said San Joaquin County Public Defender Miriam Lyell in a joint statement with Verber Salazar. “We have seen firsthand the capabilities of the Clear My Record tool to facilitate the record-clearing process and provide a much-needed service to our community, restoring families along with tremendous cost savings to the people of the State of California. This powerful tool represents the best of public-private partnerships: Harnessing the power of technology to create new pathways of opportunity for members of our community with convictions.”

Lyell joined Salazar and Lacey for the Monday morning press conference in Los Angeles, as did Miguel Villapudua, chairman of the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors.

“I am grateful for the leadership and cooperation of San Joaquin County’s justice leaders for making it a priority to work proactively to deliver this service to our community, with mindfulness of the significant financial impact these sweeping reforms have on our institutions,” Villapudua said.

“I (am) happy that we have found a way to work together with the best of Silicon Valley to deliver resources and a much-needed service to those in our community who have made mistakes in the past and are working to create a better future.”

Although Verber Salazar and Lyell have been working to either clear or reduce convictions in San Joaquin County since Proposition 47 passed in 2014 and recategorized certain nonviolent offenses as misdemeanors instead of felonies, evaluating 26,000 cases over four years has cost their offices approximately $2.5 million.

By working with Code for America, Verber Salazar said both counties will be able to save costs associated with labor and processing when determining which convictions are eligible to be cleared or reduced.

“This has been a wonderful opportunity for us and a great example of what can be accomplished through 21st-century partnerships for justice — allowing us to truly restore justice and get past offenders on the pathway to success,” Salazar said. “Thank you Code for America for this opportunity, and for the ongoing collaboration with San Joaquin County leadership.”

Although he was supportive of the partnership, Lodi Police Chief Tod Patterson said he would favor a case-by-case approach to clearing convictions instead of using what he called a “broad brush,” as he feels that this could set a precedent for clearing convictions for other crimes.

“I think that there is some good that could come out of this, we just shouldn’t use a broad brush for all 4,000 cases,” Patterson said.

While Verber Salazar and Lyell work to clear the 4,000 convictions, San Joaquin County Sheriff Pat Withrow said his office will continue to enforce the existing laws, particularly those regarding illegal marijuana cultivation and sales.

“I know there are some businesspersons out there trying to do things legally when it comes to marijuana and hemp, but there are many people out there who are not trying to follow the law and we’re going to be aggressively pursuing those people,” Withrow said.

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