BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Now that marijuana is legal, people in Kern County are asking for their pot-related criminal records to go up in smoke.
The Kern County District Attorney's Office has received a couple of expungement requests and expects some more, but they're not sure if all of them will be granted.
California voters approved Proposition 64 in November 2016, legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. Medicinal use was already legal in the state.
Essentially, Prop 64 has created a bit of a dilemma in the criminal justice world. Here's the issue: By definition, someone commits a crime when they break the law. But what about laws that no longer exist? Do those crimes still count?
According to Assistant District Attorney Scott Spielman, the answer is fairly simple.
"If what was a felony is now a misdemeanor or no crime at all, then a person can actually get it expunged from their record," Spielman said.
Expunging is when a crime is removed from a criminal record. It's like it was never there. Kind of like how the legalization of recreational marijuana got rid of all the old laws about recreational marijuana.
Naturally, after Prop 64 went into effect, people with marijuana convictions started asking for their records to be cleaned.
Some, however, will simply be told no. This isn't because of their marijuana convictions, but because of other crimes and charges they racked up while committing drug crimes.
"You know, you can legalize all the drugs, but the collateral crimes are still going to exist," said Spielman.
Because of this Spielman believes most people are unlikely to ask for expungements because they'd still have a rap sheet even if their marijuana-related crimes were taken away.
The apathy element of this situation is what is most concerning for the ADA.
Expungements are meant to reward personal change for the better after being convicted. Spielman thinks that might be a thing of the past.
"With the changes in the law, we don't really have the hammer hanging over their head or the carrot to entice them," he said.
Because when new laws, get rid of old crimes, there's nothing to expunge, no incentive to change.
Spielman does, however, believe those who have changed and would significantly benefit from a clean criminal history should contact an attorney to get the expungement process started. In his words, there is a need for this because "this country was built on second chances".