Tech Wipes Out Old Pot Convictions

Prosecutors asked a judge to dismiss 62,000 felony convictions dating to 1961.

San Francisco district attorney George Gascon, left, and Code For America founder Jennifer Pahlka at a press conference in San Francisco, Feb. 25, 2019.
San Francisco district attorney George Gascon, left, and Code For America founder Jennifer Pahlka at a press conference in San Francisco, Feb. 25, 2019.
Liz Hafalia/San Francisco Chronicle via AP, File

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles County prosecutors are joining other district attorneys to use technology to wipe out or reduce as many as 66,000 old marijuana convictions years after California voters broadly legalized the drug.

The county is working with the Code for America nonprofit tech organization, which uses computer algorithms to find eligible cases that are otherwise hard to identify in decades-old court documents. The group has offered its Clear My Record technology free to all 58 state district attorneys.

“The dismissal of tens of thousands of old cannabis-related convictions in Los Angeles County will bring much-needed relief to communities of color that disproportionately suffered the unjust consequences of our nation’s drug laws,” District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in a statement. Lacey planned a Thursday news conference to announce the plan.

Prosecutors this week asked a Superior Court judge to dismiss 62,000 felony cannabis convictions for cases that date back to 1961. The district attorney’s office also sought the dismissal of approximately 4,000 misdemeanor cannabis possession cases.

Of those getting relief under the plan, approximately 32% are African American, 20% are white, 45% are Latino, and 3% are other or unknown, officials said.

California voters approved eliminating some pot-related crimes and wiping out past criminal convictions or reducing felonies to misdemeanors when they legalized marijuana in 2016.

But there was no easy way to identify an estimated 200,000 cases statewide. Convicts had to file petitions on their own to get their records changed or hire lawyers for help with the process.

With the latest action, Code for America will have helped dismiss more than 85,000 marijuana convictions in five counties including LA, San Francisco, Sacramento, San Joaquin and Contra Costa, officials said.

“This is a clear demonstration that automatic record clearance is possible at scale and can help to right the wrongs of the failed war on drugs," Evonne Silva, Code for America's Senior Program Director of Criminal Justice, said in a statement.

The computer program not only identifies eligible cases, but automatically fills out forms to file with the courts. It can analyze conviction eligibility for about 10,000 people per minute, instead of requiring county employees to dig through individual records.

District attorneys have until July to decide whether to dismiss sentences or fight reducing the convictions.

Prosecutors in Baltimore, Seattle, Chicago and other cities have said they also would clear eligible marijuana convictions.

More in News