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San Francisco To Expunge Over 9,300 Marijuana Convictions

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  • 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.

Source: ACLU

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, “needed the most relief.”

Spillover Effect

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)

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Florida Shootout Involving Hijacked UPS Truck Ends With 4 Dead

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  • Two armed robbers hijacked a UPS truck and held the driver hostage in an attempt to escape police on Thursday.
  • The police chase ended with a shootout that left both suspects, the UPS driver, and another civilian dead. 
  • Many are condemning the police officers for their actions and blaming them for the death of the innocent victims.

Armed Robbery Leads to Shootout

Two suspects and two civilians were killed in gunfire on Thursday after an armed robbery attempt led to a violent shootout.

The suspects, identified as Lamar Alexander and Ronnie Jerome Hill, held up a jewelry store in Coral Gables, Florida yesterday afternoon. Gunfire was exchanged between the thieves and a store employee, and police arrived shortly after. 

One female store employee was injured and taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital, NBC Miami reported

The suspects escaped in a van but ditched their getaway vehicle about a mile away from the jewelry store. They then hijacked a UPS truck, holding the driver hostage at gunpoint, local authorities said at a press conference Thursday night.

Police chased the robbers across two counties. Approximately an hour after the UPS driver was abducted, the pursuit ended with a shootout at a crowded intersection in Miramar. A total of 19 officers from five different agencies were firing at the UPS truck.

Videos from the deadly exchange have been posted on Twitter, showing police officers crouching behind civilian vehicles in standstill traffic as they shot at the truck. The gunfire is thundering and consistent.

The two suspects were fatally shot in the crossfire. The UPS driver was also killed, as well as another innocent bystander sitting in her car. 

When George Piro, the special agent who heads the FBI’s Miami Field Office, was asked if it’s possible that the civilians were killed by bullets fired by police officers, he remained vague. 

“As I mentioned earlier, it is very very early on in the investigation and it would be completely inappropriate to discuss that,” Piro said. “We have just began to process the crime scene. As you can imagine this is going to be a very complicated crime scene.”

Innocent Victims

The UPS driver has been identified by his family as Frank Ordoñez, a 27-year-old father of two young girls. According to his sister, Sara Ordoñez, he had just been promoted at work for the holiday season. 

“He was excited because he was saving up to buy an apartment, a home,” Sara Ordoñez told the New York Times. “We didn’t have it so easy, so he wanted to give the best for his daughters. Everything he would do was for his daughters.”

A GoFundMe has been created for Ordoñez’s family. 

UPS released a statement on their official Twitter page addressing the loss of their employee.

“We are deeply saddened to learn a UPS service provider was a victim of this senseless act of violence,” it said.

The second slain civilian has not yet been publicly identified.

Criticism of Police Action

An interview with Joe Merino, Frank Ordoñez’s stepfather, revealed that he blames the death of his son on the police’s “negligence” and “disregard for life for a victim.” 

“We’ve all seen hostage situations where local police surround the house, SWAT comes in, there’s a negotiator… and everyone walks away alive,” Merino said. “They didn’t give Frank that opportunity.” 

Many others condemned the decisions made by law enforcement, calling for the officers to be held responsible for the civilian deaths.

See what others are saying: (CBS) (NPR) (Washington Post)

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Nearly 700,000 People to Lose Food Stamp Aid Under New Policy

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  • A new rule was finalized on Wednesday that tightens work restrictions for the federal food stamp program.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 688,000 people will be cut from the program when the rule takes effect next year.
  • Those in favor of the change argue that it will push unemployed individuals to find jobs, while critics say it will hurt them more than it will help them.

New Rule

Trump administration finalized a new rule that could remove almost 700,000 people from the federal food stamp program. The rule, announced in a press release on Wednesday, creates stricter work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) final rule promotes work for able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 49 without dependents,” the press release said.  

Under current regulations, this demographic can receive three months of SNAP benefits throughout a three year period, unless they work or undergo professional training for at least 20 hours a week. 

States have had the ability to waive this time limit to account for economic turbulence, and counties with unemployment rates as low as 2.5% were eligible for these remissions. The new rule will make 6% the minimum unemployment rate to qualify for these waivers, according to the Washington Post.

It will take effect on April 1, 2020.

Impact on Americans

While the USDA originally estimated that up to 750,000 people would be cut from SNAP with this change, now they have adjusted that number to 688,000. 

The finalized regulation is the first of three proposed measures to limit access to the federal food stamp program. A new study by the Urban Institute found that if the other two rules are approved, nearly 4 million people would lose access to food benefits.

After the new rule was proposed in February, there was an abundance of public comments imploring the administration not to go through with it. 

But the USDA was not swayed and held strong in their argument that SNAP should be a form of temporary assistance instead of a long-term lifestyle. 

“Government can be a powerful force for good, but government dependency has never been the American dream,” said Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture. “We need to encourage people by giving them a helping hand but not allowing it to become an indefinitely giving hand.”

Those who support the rule are optimistic that it will push unemployed individuals to find jobs. 

“The changes reflect the belief that more Americans can enter and reenter the workforce,” Brandon Lipps, the USDA’s Deputy Under Secretary, told the Washington Post. “So they can know the dignity of work.”

Critics of the change were extremely disappointed upon the news of the rule’s finalization, deeming it a step in the wrong direction.

“The Trump administration is driving the vulnerable into hunger just as the Christmas season approaches,” Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, said on the floor Wednesday. “It is heartless. It is cruel. It exposes a deep and shameful cruelness and hypocrisy in this administration.”

Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, chairwoman of the House Agriculture Committee’s subcommittee on nutrition, released a press statement on Wednesday after hearing the news.

“The Administration refuses to take an honest look at the people they are targeting with this rule and what challenges they face that contribute to their hunger…” she said. “…Instead of considering hungry individuals and their unique struggles and needs, the Department has chosen to paint them with the broadest brush, demonizing them as lazy and undeserving.”

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (NPR) (NBC)

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Melania Trump Blasts Law Professor for Dropping Son’s Name in Impeachment Testimony Joke

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  • Stanford law professor Pamela Karlan made a joke referencing President Donald Trump’s son in her impeachment hearing testimony on Wednesday. 
  • Melania Trump criticized Karlan on Twitter for bringing her child into a political matter.
  • Some condemned Karlan while others thought her wordplay was harmless. 
  • Many Twitter users called the FLOTUS hypocritical for defending her child but staying silent on her husband’s treatment of other minors, including teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg and migrant children experiencing inhumane treatment at the border.

Karlan’s Joke

Pamela Karlan, a Stanford law professor, dropped a controversial joke while testifying in the ongoing impeachment hearing against President Donald Trump on Wednesday. 

While explaining the difference between the POTUS and a king, she used a play on words with the name of his teenage son, Barron.

“The constitution says there can be no titles of nobility,” Karlan said. “So while the president can name his son Barron, he can’t make him a baron.”

Karlan’s joke received a scattering of laughter around the room, including a chuckle from Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who posed the question of how the president compares to royalty.  

Melania Trump took to Twitter to defend her son, condemning Karlan’s name-dropping comment. 

“A minor child deserves privacy and should be kept out of politics,” the first lady wrote. “Pamela Karlan, you should be ashamed of your very angry and obviously biased public pandering, and using a child to do it.”

Further Backlash

Karlan was put on blast by other prominent figures for her mention of the president’s son. Vice President Mike Pence called her joke a “new low.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Republican from Florida who strongly supports the president, chastised her directly on the floor Wednesday. 

“Let me also suggest that when you invoke the President’s son’s name here, when you try to make a little joke out of referencing Barron Trump, that does not lend credibility to your argument,” he said. “It makes you look mean.”

The Trump campaign released an official statement on the topic.

“Only in the mind of crazed liberals is it funny to drag a 13-year-old into the impeachment nonsense,” National Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said.

Karlan’s Apology

Later in the day, Prof. Karlan apologized for her remarks, but not without mentioning that she wishes Donald Trump would also admit to his faults. 

“I want to apologize for what I said earlier about the president’s son. It was wrong of me to do that,” she said during her testimony. “I wish the president would apologize obviously for the things that he’s done that’s wrong, but I do regret having said that.”

Defense of the Professor

While some were outraged by Karlan’s play on words, others spoke up to defend her, deeming the joke harmless.

Some Twitter users criticized the FLOTUS for being quick to defend her own son but staying silent on her husband’s treatment of other minors, including teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg and migrant children experience inhumane treatment at the border.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (NBC) (Newsweek)

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