Thousands of California convicts could soon get a fresh slate if the governor signs into law a bill passed by the Senate Wednesday that directs the Department of Justice to review marijuana related criminal cases for potential reductions or altogether erasure.
When Californians passed Proposition 64 in 2016 to legalize marijuana, they also eliminated certain pot-related crimes.
Thousands of felons have since been eligible for reduced sentences or an altogether expunged record, but lawmakers say most are unaware.
Sen. Joel Anderson (R-San Diego) spoke at Wednesday’s hearing, offering an anecdote of a senior citizen who could have avoided an arrest for weapons possession as a felon.
"The DOJ raided a persons home, who I believe had a 1962 marijuana charge that was a felon back then," Anderson said. "They knocked down his door, he was 70 or in his 70s, and they searched for his weapons."
Anderson argued that the man’s case was eligible for a reduction, but the man never submitted the paperwork.
"People don’t send in the letter," Anderson said.
This legislation directs the California DOJ to review thousands of criminal cases for eligibility by July 1, 2019, then submit those cases to the local jurisdictions.
"Then it gives the DAs one year to review all those cases and either agree with that and not object or file an objection with the court," San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow said.
Dow said without the DOJ’s assistance, reviewing hundreds of cases for eligibility would be nearly impossible.
"We’re talking about decades of criminal cases in our county," Dow said. "I’m guessing in the thousands."
Thousands of SLO county convicts could soon catch a break, a second chance that Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Tehama) doesn’t support.
"This directs us to forget any prior behavior that was illegal and the automatic expungement takes this out of a process where by there’s at least some deliberation," Nielsen said. "Individuals who were convicted of such offenses should not be given a pass."
Nielsen was reminded at the hearing that Prop 64 already provided for this review. The new legislation simply directs the DOJ to determine which cases are eligible, easing the confusion and resulting inaction.
"Not every case will automatically be granted relief because there is still some conduct related to marijuana that is illegal under today’s law," Dow said.