California to make it easier to expunge conviction records

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New legislation as of January 1 will help Californians clear their names

California legalized recreational marijuana at the beginning of last year and soon added legislation that allowed those previously convicted of certain marijuana-related crimes to seek to have those convictions expunged from their records. While the idea was sound, the practice wasn’t and it has been challenging for a great number of individuals. As of New Year’s Day, however, the process was made a lot easier, thanks to a new piece of legislation that will help countless individuals remove the unnecessary black marks from their records.

Assembly Bill 1793 (AB-1793) was introduced by Rob Bonta, an assemblymember out of Oakland, and signed into law last October. The bill was drafted with help of the Drug Policy Alliance and one of its senior staff attorneys, Jolene Forman. The bill was meant to tackle the issue that, although many could request expungements, only a handful had done so due to the complicated process.

Forman asserts, “A marijuana conviction, even for something as minor as possession for personal use, comes with lifelong collateral consequences that restrict access to employment, housing, education, and public benefits, and may result in children being separated from their parents and non-citizens being deported.”

The law orders the state’s Department of Justice to review case files, identify those individuals eligible for expungement and turn those files over to the respective county district attorneys no later than July 1 of this year. If a prosecutor doesn’t have a specific reason for denying the request, the records will automatically be made eligible for modification. Bonta expects the bill to help a minimum of 220,000 individuals in California.

He adds, “The majority of eligible individuals have not gone through the process of petitioning the courts. Many people are unaware of this opportunity to change their records, but even for those who know their rights, navigating the legal system’s bureaucracies can be confusing, costly, and time-consuming.” He expects the updated process to be more equitable and accessible to everyone in The Golden State.