- 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)
NYC Mayor Declares Public Health Emergency After Measles Outbreak
- New York City has declared a public health emergency following a severe measles outbreak, largely in Brooklyn.
- Residents of the Williamsburg neighborhood will be required to be vaccinated against measles, or else they will have to pay a fine.
- This has received some backlash, but Mayor Bill De Blasio maintains that this is both legal, and the only way to combat the issue.
Public Health Emergency in NYC
Mayor Bill De Blasio declared a public health emergency in New York City in response to the recent measles outbreak.
The measles outbreak began in the city in October, and since then there have been 285 confirmed cases of the disease. This is a very large increase, as there were only two cases of the diseases in New York City throughout all of 2017.
The outbreak is most severe in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, where a vast majority of the cases have been reported. De Blasio is mandating that every one in four zip codes in and near the area get the MMR vaccine, which according to the disease, is 97% effective. Those who do not will have to pay a $1,000 fine.
During a press conference in Williamsburg, De Blasio insisted that vaccines were the only way to stop the measles from spreading throughout the city.
We cannot allow this dangerous disease to make a comeback in New York City. We have to stop it now,” he said. “The only way to stop this outbreak is to ensure that those who have not been vaccinated get the vaccine. It’s crucial for people to understand that the measles vaccine works. It is safe, it is effective, it is time tested.”
The Orthodox Jewish community in Williamsburg, specifically children, have experienced the most cases of the measles. In December, the city mandated that schools, daycares, and yeshivas, which are Orthodox Jewish schools, had to turn away kids who were not vaccinated. Forty patients alone have come from one yeshiva that did not follow this order.
According to the Commissioner for New York City’s Department of Health, Dr. Oxiris Barbot, leaders in the Orthodox Jewish community largely approve of vaccines. However, anti-vax beliefs have still spread, causing lower vaccination rates.
Dr. Barbot blames this movement for the outbreak.
“This outbreak is being fueled by a small group of anti-vaxxers in these neighborhoods,” she said in a statement. “They have been spreading dangerous misinformation based on fake science. We stand with the majority of people in this community who have worked hard to protect their children and those at risk.”
Measles Parties on the Rise
Dr. Barbot also spoke out against “measles parties,” which are situations where parents of unvaccinated children expose their kids to someone who already has measles. This was a popular practice before vaccines were widespread, as many think that by exposing their child to the disease, they will build their immunity.
However, this has not actually been scientifically proven to be effective. In fact, this can actually just result in your child getting the measles, as the disease is highly contagious. Health officials are concerned that this fad is coming back into fashion for New Yorkers.
“We are concerned about families having measles parties,” said Dr. Barbot. “I know that parents may be afraid of getting their child vaccinated, but as a pediatrician, I know that getting vaccinated is far safer than getting measles.”
The CDC’s Disease Detectives
New York City will be using “disease detectives” from the CDC to both enforce this mandate and to stop the spread of measles throughout the city.
Like their quirky name suggests, disease detectives investigate the spread of measles through various stages of questioning, and other kinds of research. On their site, the CDC describes their role by saying, “Like investigators at the scene of a crime, these disease detectives begin by looking for clues.”
They work to anwer four main questions: Who is sick?; What are their symptoms?; When did they get sick?; And where could they have been exposed to the illness? They then try to learn who else could have been exposed, and figure out if these people have been vaccinated.
Reactions to Plans
The city’s plan to prevent the spread of measles had been met with mixed opinions. Donna Lieberman, the Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, questioned whether or not this was withing Mayor De Blasio’s power.
“The city’s order provides that people will be vaccinated without their consent, an extreme measure which is not provided for in the law and raises civil liberties concerns about forced medical treatment,” she said in a statement.
“In addressing this public health crisis, the government is required to pursue the least restrictive means possible to balance individual autonomy with the public health risk. In this case, measures such as a quarantine or penalties for non-vaccination may be permissible, but forced vaccination is not.”
A spokeswoman for City Hall, Marcy Miranda, countered this idea and told the New York Times that they will not be physically forcing anyone to get the MMR vaccine.
“We will not be forcibly vaccinating individuals,” she said. “(Officials) will work with people to educate them about the safety and importance of vaccines and will issue necessary fines as needed.”
De Blasio also maintained his right to mandate vaccinations during his press conference, saying, “We are absolutely certain we have the power to do this.”
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (ABC 7) (The Hill)
Lori Loughlin, Felicity Huffman, and Others Could Face Prison Time for College Admissions Scam
- Fourteen people involved in the massive college admissions scandal have agreed to enter guilty pleas for their role in the scam.
- Actress Lori Loughlin and her designer husband Mossimo Giannulli are not part of that group.
- According to TMZ, all 37 remaining defendants including Loughlin and Giannulli, have been offered pleas, but prosecutors will only accept ones that include prison time.
Huffman Pleads Guilty
Last month, 50 people, including wealthy parents, celebrities, tech executives, college coaches, and test proctors from across the county, were indicted as part of the Justice Department’s massive investigation dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues.”
The admissions scheme centered on William “Rick” Singer, owner of a for-profit Newport Beach college admissions company. Parents are accused of paying Singer and his firm to help their children cheat on college entrance exams and falsify athletic records. The bribes and falsified records allowed their children to secure admission to elite schools like UCLA, USC, Stanford, and Yale.
Huffman is accused of paying $15,000 in bribes so that her daughters SATs could be corrected by a Harvard graduate, giving her a 400 point boost. She agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, according to federal prosecutors.
The maximum sentence for those charges is 20 years in prison and three years of supervised release and fines. However, in exchange for a plea, prosecutors are recommending incarceration at the “low end” of the sentencing range. This means she will likely face anywhere from four to 10 months in prison.
Along with that recommendation, prosecutors will also recommend a $20,000 fine and 12 months of supervised release.
In a statement Monday, Huffman said, “I am in full acceptance of my guilt, and with deep regret and shame over what I have done, I accept full responsibility for my actions and will accept the consequences that stem from those actions,”
“I am ashamed of the pain I have caused my daughter, my family, my friends, my colleagues and the educational community. I want to apologize to them and, especially, I want to apologize to the students who work hard every day to get into college, and to their parents who make tremendous sacrifices to support their children and do so honestly.”
Huffman went on to apologize for betraying her daughter, who she said knew “absolutely nothing about my actions.”
Over a dozen other individuals also agreed to enter guilty pleas to charges of fraud and conspiracy, including Los Angeles marketing guru Jane Buckingham, Bay Area real estate developer Bruce Isackson, and former men’s tennis coach at the University of Texas Michael Center.
Loughlin and Giannulli Could Face At Least 2 Years in Prison
Actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, were not part of the group accepting pleas.
However, according to TMZ, they still likely to face prison time. TMZ reported that the remaining 37 people charged in the case, including Loughlin and Giannulli, have all been offered plea deals. but prosecutors will only accept deals with prison time attached.
Each deal includes varying recommendations for prison sentences, which are determined by the amount they paid in bribes, among other factors.
While Huffman’s plea may reportedly allow her to serve as little as four months in prison, Loughlin and Guilianni, who allegedly paid $500,000 in bribes, could face a minimum of two to two and a half years.
According to TMZ, “Our sources say prosecutors have given all defendants an ultimatum … reach a plea deal QUICKLY or else they will go to a Federal Grand Jury and add charges, including money laundering, which significantly raises the low end of prison time.”
Shortly after TMZ’s report, the U.S. Attorney’s office announced a new wave of indictments. Loughlin, her husband, and 14 others were indicted on fraud and money laundering charges.
Netflix Shelves Huffman’s Film
Netflix responded to the news of a planned guilty plea by postponing the release of “Otherhood”, a romantic comedy that was due to be shown on the streaming service on April 26.
The movie, which features Huffman alongside Patricia Arquette and Angela Bassett, does not currently have a new release date scheduled, however, Deadline reported that it may stream in August.
The Central Park Five miniseries, “When They See Us,” in which Huffman stars as a prosecutor, is still set to be released May 31 on Netflix.
Baltimore City Council Asks for Mayor’s Resignition
- The Baltimore City Council is asking for Mayor Catherine Pugh to resign after a report showed that she had been working on book deals with the University of Maryland Medical System while she was on its Board of Directors.
- The State Prosecutor opened an investigation into the incident.
- Pugh is currently on a leave of absence for medical reasons but says she intends to return when in good health.
Pugh’s Book Deal controversy
Members of the Baltimore City Council signed a letter on Monday requesting the resignation of the city’s mayor, Catherine Pugh.
Pugh is currently embroiled in a scandal surrounding book deals she made with the University of Maryland Medical System, a group she was on the Board of Directors of. Between the years 2011 and 2018, UMMS paid Pugh $500,000 for 100,000 copies of her children’s book “Healthy Holly.” They then distributed them to locals schools and daycares.
According to the Baltimore Sun, who first reported on the controversy in March, Pugh also sold copies of Healthy Holly to Kaiser Permanente and Associated Black Charities.
When these deals started, Pugh was a state senator. During this time frame, Pugh signed onto legislation that aided UMMS. Kaiser Permanente was also working on a contract with the city of Baltimore for employee benefits.
Since the controversy has unfolded, Pugh has stepped down from the board at UMMS. She also returned her most recent payment of $100,000, as the books in that order had yet to be published. The Maryland State Prosecutor has also opened an investigation into her various book deals, as not disclosing these deals on ethics forms could count as perjury or misconduct.
//www.instagram.com/embed.jsView this post on Instagram
I was thrilled to join #KaiserPermanente and the @LewisMuseum on Saturday for an exciting day focusing on culture and good health for #Baltimore residents and share excerpts from my children’s book Healthy Holly: Vegetables are not just Green. #healthybaltimore #mybmore #baltimore
“I sincerely want to say that I apologize that I have done something to upset the people of Baltimore,” she said issuing an apology at a public appearance. “I never intended to do anything that could not stand up to scrutiny.”
On April 1, Pugh announced she would be taking a leave of absence from her role as mayor, but cited reasons unrelated to the scandal. Instead, she said the leave was to recover from pneumonia, which she had recently been hospitalized for. Her spokesperson said that she plans to return to the job when her health allows it.
Pugh’s Resignation is Requested
Fourteen councilmembers signed the resignation request. The only member who did not sign was Jack Young, who is serving as the acting mayor while Pugh is out.
The letter is a brief two sentences, and states that her resignation would be in “the city’s best interest.”
With the letter, Councilmember Eric Costello released a statement claiming that the ongoing investigations make it “impossible for Mayor Pugh to govern effectively.”
Peter Franchot, Maryland’s Comptroller, has also asked that Pugh resign. On Sunday, he made an appearance on WBAL-TV saying that this scandal has harmed the city’s reputation and that the first step in repairing it is her leaving office.
“Now (Baltimore) is kind of a laughing stock around the country because of this crazy scandal that the mayor is involved in,” he said during an interview. “We need to emphasize that this kind of disgrace is not what we’re known for in Maryland or in Baltimore. And we need to recover from it. But at a minimum, she has to step aside.”