‘Isn’t just a matter of waving a wand’: Jackie Lacey on weed conviction dismissals

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Jackie Lacey. Photo credit: Los Angeles County

LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey this week dismissed 66,000 marijuana-related convictions in the county. Many of the people affected no longer have felonies on their records, and others no longer have criminal records at all. 

Lacey tells Press Play that her office had decided more than a year ago to do this once it could figure out how. She credits the group Code for America for helping her office use technology to efficiently sort through tens of thousands of cases from years ago. 

She was also forced to start this process because the state legislature passed a law in 2018 that required her to expunge or reduce the charges by July 2020.

“This is good. I always wanted people to have the release that they’re entitled to. And this allowed me to do it very, very quickly … in one day. And allow people to go forward with their lives,” she says.

Lacey’s critics say the timing of this move is suspect. It comes weeks before her reelection for LA District Attorney. She’s in a tight race against two more progressive candidates. 

Her response: “They're talking from a position of ignorance -- in the sense that they don't know exactly what we went through. This undertaking was not simple. The court system does not talk necessarily directly to our system. We had to get the data from DOJ [Department of Justice]. Code for America had to create a unique algorithm to actually search through all of the documents to get it right. We then had to hand-search through 10,000 cases, coordinate with the public defender in the court, and then there were 10 other city attorney agencies that we had to get agreements from.”

Her election opponent, former San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, said he expunged these kinds of convictions two years ago.

Lacey responds: “He only had 9,000 cases to do. And he had a different court system, quite frankly. He didn't have 10 city prosecutors. So ours was very different. The court system in L.A. County is complex. It's the largest court system in the nation. And it isn't just a matter of waving a wand and dismissing a bunch of cases. We really had to do a lot more work.” 

--Written by Amy Ta, produced by Michell Eloy