Pubdate: Fri, 07 Sep 2018
Source: Morning Call (Allentown, PA)
Copyright: 2018 The Morning Call Inc.
Author: Jennifer Peltz


Tens of thousands of low-level marijuana convictions could be erased
with the OK of Brooklyn's top prosecutor, under a new plan for wiping
records clean of offenses no longer being prosecuted in parts of the
nation's biggest city.

District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announced Friday he is inviting people
to request conviction dismissals. He expects prosecutors will consent
in the great majority of a potential 20,000 cases since 1990 and an
unknown number of older ones.

To Gonzalez, whose office has stopped prosecuting most cases involving
people accused of having small amounts of pot, it's only right to nix
convictions that wouldn't be pursued now.

"It's a little unfair to say we're no longer prosecuting these cases,
but to have these folks carry these convictions for the rest of their
lives," the Democrat told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday.

Several states have laws allowing for expunging or sealing marijuana
convictions in certain circumstances. And prosecutors in San Diego,
San Francisco, and Seattle -- all in states where pot is now legal --
have taken steps toward clearing marijuana convictions en masse.
California lawmakers approved a measure last month that would require
prosecutors to erase or reduce an estimated 220,000 pot convictions.
It's awaiting action from Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown.

The Brooklyn initiative envisions a case-by-case wipeout of thousands
of convictions obtained under a law that still stands.

New York allows marijuana-derived medications for some conditions, but
recreational pot remains illegal, although Democratic Gov. Andrew
Cuomo has appointed a panel to draft legislation that could legalize

Meanwhile, Gonzalez and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.
decided this year to decline to prosecute most misdemeanor pot
possession and smoking cases. The men oversee prosecutions in two of
the city's five boroughs.

The DAs said the prosecutions did little for public safety but
sometimes a lot of harm -- jeopardizing job opportunities, housing,
immigration status and more -- in the lives of defendants who were
overwhelmingly black and Hispanic.

District attorneys in the other three boroughs still pursue such
cases, however. All five DAs are Democrats.

Under Gonzalez' new initiative, people already convicted of pot
possession misdemeanors or violations in Brooklyn can ask a court to
dismiss the cases. Legal groups are ready to help people with the paperwork.

The DA's office will oppose requests from people with additional
convictions for drug sales, certain violent felonies or sex offenses,
for instance. But Gonzalez expects those cases to be few.

"This is really a relief that I think we can provide, and we do it in
a way that is safe," he said.

A dismissal will ultimately be up to a judge. In general, judges often
dismiss cases when prosecutors consent to it.

New York City overall has been shifting its approach to policing
marijuana, which spurred more than 50,000 arrests a year as recently
as 2011. Last year, there were 17,880, according to the state Division
of Criminal Justice Services.

A 2014 city policy called for police to issue summonses citing
violations, instead of making misdemeanor arrests, for most small-time
marijuana possession cases, though not public pot smoking. As of last
Saturday, officers have been directed to issue tickets in most
marijuana-smoking cases, too.

Police Commissioner James O'Neill supports the move, but the city's
efforts to ease off on pot have drawn criticism from Sergeants
Benevolent Association President Ed Mullins.

"If you want to not have enforcement of arrests," he told The Wall
Street Journal in May, "then you need to change the law."