A typo prevented New Yorkers from getting marijuana felony record relief

The marijuana legalization bill that New York enacted in 2021 includes two provisions aimed at reducing the impact of prior marijuana convictions. Helps to expunge misdemeanor records involving conduct such as low-level marijuana possession, which is no longer a crime. The other was supposed to help people convicted of marijuana offenses by expunging their records in line with current laws. but The New York Times Note, a typographical error made it difficult to derive the latter type of relief from legislators’ promises.

The New York State Unified Court System states that misdemeanor convictions involving possession of up to one pound or sale of up to 25 grams will be “automatically expunged…without the filing of a motion and without a fee.” Although the process for downgrading offenses under the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act is a little more complicated, the law was supposed to create a presumption in favor of relief. Thanks to sloppy drafting, it didn’t work out that way.

The section of the Marijuana Prior Conviction Act describes two types of situations. Section 2(a)(i) refers to a person convicted of a marijuana offense that “would not have been an offense” if the 2021 changes took effect. Article 2(a)(ii) refers to a person who “would have been guilty of a lesser or potentially less serious offense” under the existing law.

Under Article 2(b), a court that receives a petition from someone convicted of a marijuana offense that no longer exists “…shall grant a motion to vacate such conviction.” The section adds that a court “may substitute, unless it is in the interests of justice to do so, a conviction for an appropriate lesser offense” when “the petition meets the criteria in subparagraph (i) of paragraph (a).”

Phew it clearly should have been “subparagraph criteria”. (ii) Paragraph (a),” since it makes no sense to substitute “conviction of an appropriate lesser offense” if no such offense exists. Because of that mistake, those convicted of marijuana offenses cannot use the statute’s supposed streamlined relief process. Provide.

“It’s literally a typo,” said attorney Emma Goodman of the Legal Aid Society. bar, Which says the error “made an eye-rolling joke about government dysfunction.” But for people saddled with criminal records because they were involved in a business that New York has now legalized, the situation is no laughing matter.

Under the previous law, for example, anyone caught with eight ounces to one pound of marijuana was convicted of a felony punishable by up to four years in prison. Under current law, possessing that amount in public is a violation punishable by a maximum fine of $250. It is legal to have five pounds or less at home.

Possession of one to 10 pounds of marijuana was a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison. Public possession of one to five pounds is now a felony punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. Possession of more than five pounds (the personal possession limit) remains an offence, but the maximum sentence is now four years instead of seven years if the amount does not exceed 10 pounds.

In other words, many people who have a marijuana criminal record, which is a barrier to housing, education, employment and professional licensure, should be able to get rid of that burden through the process created by the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act. In some cases, criminal acts will become misdemeanors; In other cases, they would be civil violations. But because of the disappearance iThat process is more difficult and uncertain than it was supposed to be.

In an email, Goodman estimated that 9,000 marijuana felony convictions are covered by New York’s law, with about half involving offenses that are no longer felonies. “A form should exist that allows for a simple request to reduce/downgrade your conviction to your current level of offense,” he wrote. Although the language of the statute gives the court some discretion in granting the petition, he said, “No one really expected pushback on the simple substitution of low-level offenses. It was expected that this would be a very straightforward process that could be done on its own.”

The drafting error “prevents an offender from filing a simple form to plead guilty,” times Comment. Instead they were required to “draft a legal motion and submit it to the county court where they were convicted.” Although “such motions have largely traveled in more liberal counties,” the times They said they faced opposition from some local prosecutors.

“There are still significant groups in some parts of the state that oppose the law and don’t want it enforced,” Goodman said times. “Everybody in Albany understands it’s a mistake,” he adds, but “there’s no easy way to fix it.”

New laws will be needed to correct the error. “It may take some time,” said a spokeswoman for New York Assembly Majority Leader Crystal DePeoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo). times“But we’re on it.”