Pot Conviction Reversals Surprisingly Low
Few Petitions Filed, Pandemic Delays Evaluations of Old Marijuana Verdicts
On November 8, 2016, California passed Proposition 64 decriminalizing the use of recreational marijuana. Following these legal changes, Code For America worked with five California counties to create an algorithm that helped determine which marijuana-involved cases could be examined for resentencing or reassignment. The Judicial Council estimates that there are more than 1,700 eligible cases in Santa Barbara County.
However, according to Darrel Parker, the executive officer for Santa Barbara Superior Court, in 2018 their office only received 82 petitions. Low numbers such as this prompted Assembly Bill 1739, which required California’s Department of Justice to review all records to determine case eligibility. Parker explained, “I think the Assembly must have recognized that leaving it up to each individual to volitionally go out and petition the courts was not getting the results they wanted. So this bill required the Department of Justice to identify all those convictions that are eligible for recall or dismissal and then to communicate that to the District Attorney’s Office. The prosecution was required by July 1 of this year to review all of those cases and determine whether or not they are going to challenge the resentencing, dismissals, or sealings.”
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According to Parker, this process has been confounded by the County Clerk’s Office being closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Parker elaborated on this difficulty, stating, “I think the District Attorney’s Office has completed that work, but they have had limited access to our offices since the pandemic. We have reached out to the DA’s Office to try and figure out which cases are they actually going to dismiss and which cases are they going to object to reducing or resentencing.”
Although the pandemic has made the process of reviewing cases under Proposition 64 difficult, the District Attorney’s Office has continued to examine cases under the new statute. John Savrnoch of the District Attorney’s Office commented, “We have stated to the court that we are not objecting to the dismissals and reductions. All of the cases will be processed. Right now with this system and with COVID, it is a matter of everybody identifying and making sure that we have all the cases. Regardless, all eligible cases for reduction will be reduced.”
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