- San Francisco’s District Attorney announced he will expunge 9,362 marijuana convictions dating as far back as 1975.
- The DA’s office teamed up with a nonprofit called Code for America, which developed technology that helped identify cases that are eligible for expungement.
- The city took this proactive approach to clear cases themselves because they say the traditional process is expensive and tedious, making it both challenging and rare for eligible people to do so themselves.
Past Convictions to be Expunged
San Francisco officials announced Monday that they will dismiss 9,362 marijuana convictions dating back to 1975, making San Francisco the first city in the U.S. to clear all eligible marijuana convictions.
The announcement from San Francisco’s District Attorney, George Gascón, comes just over two years after California passed Proposition 64, which legalized recreational marijuana in California for people 21 and older.
Prop. 64 was approved by voters in 2016, and also allows those convicted of marijuana possession to petition to have their convictions expunged.
It also allow people to petition to have marijuana-related crimes reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor. The expungements also include marijuana convictions that are tied to other crimes.
Code for America
After Prop 64 passed, San Francisco became the first county to announce that it would clear old marijuana convictions.
For about a year, the San Francisco DA’s office went through old marijuana cases to determine which ones were eligible for dismissal and found about 1,200 cases to clear on their own.
However, that process proved to be time-consuming, which lead the DA to team up with a nonprofit called Code for America, a group that uses open-source technology to improve government efficiency.
Code for America used a computer algorithm it created called “Clear My Record” which sorts through marijuana convictions and determined which were eligible for expungement under Prop. 64.
According to a Medium article written by Code for America: “The Clear My Record technology can automatically and securely evaluate eligibility for convictions by reading and interpreting conviction data. It can evaluate eligibility for thousands of convictions in just a few minutes.”
The program also automatically fills out the required paperwork that can be turned in to the court for processing these cases.
People could request expungements themselves even before the DA and Code for America took on the project. However, before the city began to look for people who were eligible, only 23 people had actually petitioned the city to do something about their convictions because it is a confusing and tedious task.
Gascón said in a statement, “You have to hire an attorney. You have to petition the court. You have to come for a hearing,” continuing:
“It’s a very expensive and very cumbersome process. And the reality is that the majority of the people that were punished and were the ones that suffered in this war on marijuana, war on drugs nationally, were people that can ill afford to pay an attorney.”
Impact on People of Color & Low Income Communities
The DA’s office also noted that people who have marijuana convictions on their records often have trouble finding employment, noting that these people can face barriers when trying to get access to education, housing, loans, and public assistance.
Gascón also noted that there were racial disparities in marijuana arrests in the city.
A study done by ACLU in 2013 found that in San Francisco, African Americans were more than four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people.
In a press briefing, Gascón said: “Take San Francisco for instance, our African American population is under 5 percent. But if you look at our convictions for marijuana offenses, 33 percent of people we convicted were African American, 27 percent were Latino.”
Due to the push from these factors, the city decided to take a proactive approach to clear past convictions themselves to help people who they say, “n
Now that the DA has made the announcement, all that has to be done is for the courts to process the requests.
With this unprecedented move from San Francisco, many are wondering what implications this has for the rest of the country.
San Francisco’s actions have already prompted several other cities to follow their lead, and many believe that both the expungements and the technology used by Code for America will have a positive spillover effect.
Code for America intends on expanding it’s pilot program to other California counties, and has already set the goal of clearing 250,000 eligible convictions nationwide by 2019.
In California, other counties including Los Angeles are considering similar efforts. The Los Angeles County DA’s office estimates that there have been 40,000 felony marijuana convictions offenses since 1993. However, prosecutors have not said how many of those cases could be eligible for expungement.
The Code for America technology could also help a California with Assembly Bill 1793 which was signed into law last year. The bill mandates that the state build a list of all individuals eligible to have crimes expunged under Prop 64, with the end goal of having all past marijuana-related crimes reduced or cleared by 2020.
There are also other efforts happening outside of California.
In Missouri, lawmakers are considering a bill that would expunge convictions for medical marijuana patients, which is legal in the state.
New Jersey residents can also have their convictions expunged, but like in San Francisco, the process is reportedly challenging.
Additionally, in New York, the governor has proposed legalizing recreational marijuana use, and officials are exploring the possibly expunging or sealing conviction records.
Some law enforcement groups are not thrilled about the move to expunge convictions.
John Lovell, legislative counsel to the California Narcotic Officers’ Association, who was one of the leading voices against the legalization of marijuana in CA, told the Los Angeles Times: “To simply embark on an across-the-board expungement of 9,300 without looking at any of the surrounding factors on any of those cases strikes us as cavalier irresponsibility.”
In contrast, Gascón has said:
“This isn’t a political thing. This is about dignity. People pay their debt to society. People pay the consequences for something we no longer consider a crime. They should not be jumping through hoops for this. They should just get it.”
See what others are saying: (San Francisco Chronicle) (Los Angeles Times) (NPR)
Florida Breaks Its Record for New Daily COVID-19 Cases and Hospitalizations
The Sunshine State now accounts for 20% of all new COVID-19 cases nationwide.
Florida Becomes COVID Epicenter
Florida reported 10,207 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Sunday, marking its largest single-day count to date. The grim record comes just one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data showing that the state had counted 21,683 new infections Friday, its highest record of daily cases since the start of the pandemic.
Florida has become the new epicenter of the most recent U.S. outbreaks driven by the delta variant. The state now accounts for one out of every five new cases, and the weekend numbers are highly significant because they surpass previous records that were logged before vaccines were readily available.
Notably, Florida’s vaccination rate is actually the exact same as the nationwide average of 49% fully vaccinated, according to The New York Times tracker. In fact, Florida’s rate is the highest among the top 10 states currently reporting the most COVID cases.
While Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has encouraged Florida residents to get vaccinated, he and the state’s legislature have also made it much harder for local officials to enforce protections to mitigate further spread.
DeSantis Bars Masking in Schools
On the same day that the state reported its highest cases ever, DeSantis signed an executive order banning school districts from requiring students to wear a mask when they go back to school later this month.
The move directly contradicts guidance issued by the CDC last week, which recommended that everyone inside K-12 schools wear a face covering.
DeSantis, for his part, has repeatedly claimed the spikes are part of “seasonal” increases driven by more people being indoors and air-conditioning systems circulating the virus. Still, he argued also Friday that he did not think masks were necessary to prevent children from transmitting COVID in the classroom, where they are inside with air conditioning.
At the same time, last week, Florida reported more than 21,000 infections among children younger than 19.
Florida is not the only state that has banned schools from requiring masks. In fact, many of the states suffering the biggest spikes have done the same, including Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas — which all currently rank among the top 10 states with the highest per capita COVID cases.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (Axios)
Biden to Mandate COVID Vaccines for Federal Workers as CDC Changes Masking Guidance
News of the efforts came on the same day that the U.S. reported more than 100,000 new daily COVID cases for the first time since February.
Federal Vaccine Mandate
President Joe Biden will announce Thursday that all federal employees must get vaccinated against COVID-19 or consent to strict testing and other safety precautions, White House officials told reporters Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, Biden said he was considering the requirement but did not provide any more information.
While the officials also said the details are still being hashed out, they did note that the policy would be similar to ones recently put in place by California and New York City, which respectively required state and city workers to get the jab or submit to regular testing.
Also on Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their guidelines to recommend that Americans who live in areas “of substantial or high transmission,” as well as all students and teachers, wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status.
Delta Causes Spikes, But Vaccines Still Prove Effective
The renewed COVID mitigation efforts come as the delta variant is driving massive surges all over the country.
Coronavirus cases have quadrupled throughout July, jumping from a weekly average of 11,799 on the first day of the month to 63,248 on Tuesday, according to The New York Times tracker. Tuesday also saw new daily infections topping 100,000 for the first time since February, with more than 108,000 reported, per The Times.
While the vast majority of new infections are among people who have not been vaccinated, there have also been increasing reports of breakthrough cases in people who have received the jab.
Those cases, however, do not mean that the vaccines are not effective.
No vaccine prevents 100% of infections. Health officials have said time and time again that the jabs are intended to prevent severe disease and death, and they are doing just that.
According to the most recent data for July 19, the CDC reported that only 5,914 of the more than 161 million Americans who have gotten the vaccine were hospitalized or died from COVID-19 — a figure that represents 0.0036% of vaccinated people.
While safety precautions may be recommended for some people who have received the vaccine, many media narratives have overstated the role breakthrough cases play in the recent spikes. As New York Magazine explains, it is imperative to understand these new mask recommendations are not happening because the vaccine is not effective, but because not enough people are getting the vaccine.
“Because breakthrough infections have so often made the news due to their novelty, that can create a perception of more cases than are actually happening — particularly without more robust tracking of the actual cases to provide context,” the outlet wrote.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNBC)
Wisconsin Police Deny Planting Evidence in Viral Video, Release Their Own Body Cam Footage
The footage police released shows that during a search, officers found a corner tear from a plastic bag inside a backseat passenger’s pocket. An officer then discarded it into the car after determining that it was empty.
Viral Video Appears To Show Officer Planting Evidence
The Caledonia Police Department in Wisconsin has responded to a viral cell phone video that appears to show an officer planting a small plastic baggie inside of a car during a traffic stop.
The now-viral footage was posted to Facebook by a man who goes by GlockBoy Savoo.
The user, who also filmed the clip, wrote in his post’s caption that the officer did this “just to get a reason to search the car” and said the cop didn’t know he was being recorded by the passenger.
Police Shut Down Accusations With Their Own Footage
After that video spread across social media, many were outraged, calling the Caledonia police dirty for seemingly planting evidence. All the outrage eventually prompted the department to announce an investigation Saturday.
Within hours, the department provided an update, claiming that officers didn’t actually plant any evidence or do anything illegal.
Police shared a lengthy summary of events, along with two body camera clips from the incident. That statement explained that the driver of the vehicle was pulled over for going 63 in a 45mph zone.
Two passengers in the backseat who were then spotted without seatbelts were asked to identify themselves and step out of the car. During a search of one passenger’s pockets, an officer pulled out “an empty corner tear” from a plastic baggie.
Police claim the corner tear did not contain any illegal substances, though they said this type of packaging is a common method for holding illegal drugs.
In one body cam clip, an officer can be heard briefly questioning the backseat passenger about the baggie. Then, that piece of plastic gets handed off to different officers who also determined it as empty before the officer in the original viral video discarded it into the back of the car.
The officer can also be seen explaining where the plastic came from to the passenger recording him.
“Aye, bro you just threw that in here!” the front seat passenger says, as heard in his version of the events.
“Yeah, cause it was in his pocket and I don’t want to hold onto it. It’s on their body cam that they took it off of him…I’m telling you where it came from, so. It’s an empty baggie at the moment too, so,” the officer replies.
The department went on to explain that while it would discourage officers from discarding items into a citizen’s car, this footage proves that evidence was not planted.
Authorities also noted that no arrests were made in this incident and the driver was the only one issued a citation for speeding. The statement added that since four officers were present at the scene, police have more than six hours of footage to review but they promised to release the footage in full in the near future.