Crime - Sacto 911

Got a pot charge on your record? After Prop. 64, the county can help you with that

Yolo County's district attorney and public defender are collaborating to help people purge their records of pot-related offenses.

In addition to legalizing recreational marijuana use in California, Proposition 64 retroactively reduced penalties for many marijuana-related crimes.

Yolo County's DA and public defender announced Tuesday they will begin proactively reducing and eliminating convictions, following the lead of district attorneys elsewhere in the state.

Growing up to six plants for personal use or possessing up to an ounce of marijuana are no longer crimes, while some selling offenses went from felonies to misdemeanors.

Adjusting records could have a significant impact on peoples' lives. Felonies and misdemeanors can be insurmountable obstacles when searching for work and housing.

"If you can't work and have trouble finding housing, your chances of success are reduced," said Chief Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Raven. "It increases the likelihood of ending up back in the criminal justice system exponentially."

It's also a question of equality - the penalties for marijuana-related offenses have disproportionately affected minorities. The Drug Policy Alliance says California police arrested black people for marijuana crimes at more than twice the rate of Latinos in 2015 and more than triple the rate of white people.

Raven said the DA's office doesn't track cases by race or ethnicity.

In Yolo County, the District Attorney's Office identified 711 people whose cases were filed after 2009. The Public Defender's Office will review the cases. If both agencies agree that the case qualifies for legal relief, the case will be presented to a judge for sign off, Raven said.

If neither office objects to the reduction or expungement, the person won't need to appear in court.

Yolo County Public Defender Tracie Olson said her office first identified and filed petitions on behalf of defendants who were immediately facing incarceration or probation due to a marijuana offense.

"We worked with CDCR and the Sheriff’s Department to identify individuals serving prison or jail time or a period of supervision due to these convictions," Olson said in an email. "Through that effort, we identified a little over 20 such defendants."

They filed petitions for defendants who didn't have other counsel, and all but two were approved by the judge. Those two were contested by the DA's office.

The DA's office would usually begin working on changes to records if a law or ballot measure provided funding to local offices to do so, Raven said. In this case, Proposition 64 didn't include funding for this purpose, but the measure won the support of 60. 5 percent of Yolo County voters.

"The will of the voters was shown in the passage of Proposition 64," Raven said. "Having seen other counties explore this and start these programs, we decided to look into it further."

San Diego and San Francisco district attorneys have launched similar programs in the last few months.

In other jurisdictions, people have to reach out to authorities. Sacramento County's District Attorney's Office isn't conducting a review of past cases, but it has received 285 petitions for relief since the passage of Proposition 64.

"For the great majority, we've agreed to the relief," said Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Rob Gold. "Sometimes they're not entitled to a dismissal, but they are entitled to a reduction... We agree to the relief the law says they're entitled to."

Gold said the process is simple - a person fills out a one page form that is given to the DA's office and the court. If the DA and the Public Defender's Office agree to the relief, the form gets filed with a judge who was assigned to handle the cases.

Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, is pushing a bill this year that would make the process even simpler. AB 1793 would require courts to automatically expunge the records of people convicted of marijuana-related crimes that are now legal.

Ellen Garrison: (916) 321-1920, @EllenGarrison

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