Illustration for article titled Tech Nonprofit Uses Automation to Get 66,000 Old Marijuana Convictions Dismissed in Los Angeles
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It’s been nearly four years since California voted to legalize marijuana and offer a clean slate for at least tens of thousands of racially-targeted residents with past convictions for victimless crimes. California is now high on a legal supply, which is fun, but the state hasn’t delivered so much when it comes to cleaning up people’s records. So the nonprofit tech company Code for America swooped in with an algorithm, and finally, the results are in: yesterday, the Los Angeles County District Attorney announced that they have asked the courts to dismiss 66,000 (sixty-six thousand!) marijuana convictions eligible for relief under Prop 64. The District Attorney’s office estimates the total applies to around 53,000 people, 45 percent of whom are Latinx and 32 percent are black or African American. In a press release, the District Attorney’s office notes that 62,000 of the identified marijuana-related convictions were felony convictions.

In a press conference, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey described the mountain of records, some of which date back to 1961, as “daunting.” So they partnered with the nonprofit organization Code for America, which used its Clear My Record program to speed up the process: the county uploaded records, Clear My Record algorithmically scanned them for convictions that are eligible for relief, and Code for America sent them back to the county DOJ. The huge batch of cases up for clearance in Los Angeles is a big win in a series of victories for Clear My Record; last year, it aided San Francisco in identifying over 8,000 convictions for dismissal and another 3,000 in Contra Costa County last month. District attorneys in San Joaquin and Sacramento have also announced partnerships with the intention of clearing thousands of old convictions. And yet, according to a statement from the nonprofit, “only 3% of those eligible for relief under Proposition 64 have received it.” Code for America’s Prop 64 platform is freely available for any DA’s office that wishes to use it.

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The marijuana convictions are part of a larger stated goal toward helping the one in three Americans who, Code for America claims, have criminal records which show up on potential employers’ and lenders’ background checks (the Brennan Center for Justice reports that the FBI keeps a database of “criminal” records on more than 70 million people, though this counts all arrests that did not necessarily result in convictions).

The Los Angeles District Attorney’s office expects the court to dismiss the convictions, after which point those who’ve been affected can contact the County Public Defender’s Office at (323) 760-6763 to check on your status.

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Clear My Record was not immediately available for comment, but prepare to hear from Cook County, Illinois on its progress with the program soon.

Staff reporter, Gizmodo. wkimball @ gizmodo

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