January 28, 2019

Quick Takes (v32): A Clean Slate

Quick Takes
I have to confess, it's not often that I'm pleasantly surprised by Onondaga County's District-Attorney-for-Life William Fitzpatrick, but that's exactly what I am after reading that he is moving to expunge old marijuana convictions for folks in our area.

As reported locally as well as nationally in High Times magazine,
Fitzpatrick has ordered his staff to dismiss all new and pending marijuana charges this year. The policy shift is just part of the district attorney's broader plan to wipe decades of cannabis convictions from the record. 
This comes in advance of the expected legalization of marijuana for adult recreational use in New York State this year. Fitz's team is going back 20 years, looking for convictions that can be wiped clean. And this is pretty cutting-edge stuff, we're told.

Again, from the article in High Times
As legalization and decriminalization expand around the US, there's a growing chorus of elected officials and policy advocates calling for record expungement. But according to the New York State District Attorney's Association, Fitzpatrick's plan is the first of it's kind in the region. Other Upstate counties have floated the idea, especially since Gov. Cuomo announced a plan to legalize adult-use cannabis by the end of the year. So far, however, no other counties have started the expungement process. 
So, how big a deal is this?

Well, already in 2019, the articles state, there are 160 new or pending marijuana charges; below are the numbers of arrests for misdemeanors (the first number) and violations for the past few years:
  • 2018: 81/1971 (preliminary data)
  • 2017: 72/2193
  • 2016: 49/1870
  • 2015: 31/1607
  • 2014: 44/1322
Now, those numbers don't mean that all those thousands of people have convictions; that's just arrest volumes. And it's only people with convictions who might be eligible for having their records expunged - anyone who's had the charges dropped, or had their case disposed of by doing community service or otherwise staying out of trouble aren't eligible, because they don't have a record if they abided by the requirements of their dismissal order.

And, of course, if there are other convictions in addition to the pot charge - as there often are - there is no expungement offered. So we're talking a number in the low hundreds, most likely, not the high thousands. But, for the folks who are eligible, it's a big deal, even if, as Fitz says,
It's a simple matter of justice. One should not be stigmatized with a criminal record by virtue of the fact they were born too early...
It's also a big deal for Fitzpatrick, who noted that he's only authorized three prior record expungements - all of which were done to allow someone to avoid threatened deportation.

It's going to take a while to get all of this taken care of, in part to figure out the process of getting everyone on the same page, moving all of the paperwork through, and getting notifications to the lucky folks earning the clean record, but they've already started and it's expected that this will be finished even before pot is made legal.

Fitz even offered up  his office number - 315-435-2470 - and said people who think they might be eligible should give him a call.

As I said, color me pleasantly surprised.

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