San Francisco coders are working with the district attorney’s office to wipe out old cannabis convictions. The DA’s office has teamed up with a non-profit organisation to identify eligible people.
With cannabis legal in San Francisco for people over 21, all cannabis misdemeanours as far back as 1975 need readdressing. Code for America developed an algorithm to help identify convictions. The code searches through minor cases to identify cannabis convictions to readdress. The prosecutor reviews convictions and submits relevant paperwork to the court.
District Attorney George Gascon said after their failed war on drugs it was time to repair the harm done. A little-known Californian law allows people with cannabis convictions a second chance. The process is not automatic. People need to apply to the court to have their criminal records changed. So far, 4500 people have applied to the courts since November 2016.
Clean your police record on low income
There are concerns the public is not aware of this law. It is also difficult for people with low incomes to apply to the court. So, Code for America developed an algorithm to help identify old cases eligible for review at no cost to Californians.
Gascon said there were around 3000 cases eligible for automatic dismissal and 5000 for review so far. For example, someone convicted of possessing an ounce or less of cannabis will have their conviction wiped as it is now legal. But, if you have a conviction for a major felony like murder, you will not be so lucky. Prosecutors can decide not to support reclassifying an old conviction in these cases.
Algorithm quickly wipes out old convictions
With Proposition 47 passing in California in 2014, it is now possible to have minor convictions dismissed. This brings hope to many people of having their records cleared. It can give them a new start in life. But, for many people, the appeal process is too complicated and costly.
Millions of people in California are unable to break the cycle of poverty and imprisonment. A record criminal record stays with people forever. This makes it difficult to find work no matter how minor the charges. Criminal convictions haunt people forever. They still show up on background checks even when people have no serious convictions.
Felony charges get expunged
Code for America started working on project Clear My Record in 2016. They digitised the process and sent eligible people a text rather than a letter through the mail to notify them. This resulted in Code for America connecting 7000 people across 14 counties to lawyers. But, the process was not scaleable. So, their coders wrote an algorithm. It quickly searches and reads all charges and identifies codes for different crimes. The algorithm understands which felony convictions are eligible for review. It fills out the paperwork for the DA to submit to the court.
Code for America is working with the DA’s office to expunge minor cannabis convictions. The algorithm processes hundreds of records in minutes. It takes a paralegal 15 minutes to process each one.
This is great news for people with cannabis misdemeanour convictions. It will have a positive impact on many lives. A criminal record holds people back. Applying for student loans and housing can be impossible with a felony conviction. And, the people most affected are those from a low socio-economic background and black people.
The rate of cannabis use is almost the same for white and black people. But, black people are four times more likely to get arrested for cannabis possession. With cannabis legal in California many people have a chance for a new start in life. Clearing records also improves public safety. People turn to crime when they do not have regular employment or a safe place to live. Expunging records makes a good job and housing possible.
How the technology works
Clearing your record is fast, convenient and free with Clear My Record. All you need to do is upload photos of your criminal record to the website. The website uses character recognition technology to evaluate which convictions are eligible for expungement.
Working with the DA’s office, the technology reviews criminal records in bulk. Once it determines which records are eligible, it fills out the paperwork. It then submits the paperwork as a motion for consideration to the courts.
This works well for cannabis misdemeanours. Most people will never see the paperwork. They only find out when notified a conviction is removed from their record. This ground-breaking technology comes into its own when reviewing more complex felony cannabis convictions. The algorithm searches criminal records for serious crimes. Violent crimes that can prevent people from having charges reduced or cleared. This gives the DA’s office the ability to review all past convictions.
The future of wiping out misdemeanours
There is a target to clear 250,000 cannabis convictions by 2019. To achieve this, Clear My Record will share its technology with other counties. While the current focus is cannabis convictions, the hope is the program will assist people with other criminal convictions.
As of May 14, the San Francisco DA’s office prepared 962 motions to dismiss cannabis convictions. It submitted 528 to the San Francisco court with 428 of them granted. With this success, they plan to use Clear My Record’s technology to process the remaining hundreds of thousands of convictions.
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