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DA to Use New Algorithm to Expunge Pot Convictions

By William Vogeler, Esq. on May 24, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon sees a different world when it comes to marijuana laws.

Soon after marijuana became legal for recreational use in California, Gascon announced that his office would apply Prop. 64 retroactively. That meant recalling thousands of marijuana convictions for potential resentencing.

Now the district attorney is looking forward, saying his office will use new technology to expunge pot convictions. He says it will help all Californians in the end.

'21st-Century Problems'

"When the government uses 20th-century tools to tackle 21st-century problems, it's the public that pays the price," Gascon said. "California has decriminalized recreational cannabis use, but a marijuana conviction continues to serve as a barrier to employment, housing, student loans and more."

Lack of access to employment and housing, he said, are two main causes of recidivism. By keeping people down with criminal records, he said, the government is contributing to the problem.

Working with Code for America, the district attorney's office will employ an algorithm to search records for people who are eligible for expungements.

"By reimagining existing government systems through technology and user-centered design, we can help governments rethink incarceration, reduce recidivism, and restore opportunity," said Jennifer Pahlka, executive director of the organization.

Nearly 5,000 Felonies

Code for America will search nearly 5,000 felony marijuana convictions back to 1975. Once reviewed, the district attorney will know whether the defendants can have their records reduced or expunged.

According to reports, the district attorney's office has filed 962 motions to dismiss misdemeanor marijuana convictions this year. As of May, 428 had been granted.

Similar technology has been used successfully in other jurisdictions, but there are potential problems. For example, it could complicate citizenship cases because state and federal authorities often have separate records.

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