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Past Marijuana Convictions in San Francisco to Be Wiped Clean

It's rare for prosecutors to voluntarily dismiss cases. But thousands in one swoop? That gets headlines. San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon announced Wednesday that his office will review and move to expunge thousands of Marijuana-related convictions in the city going back to 1975. Reversing Course Requires Reversing Convictions California voters legalized the recreational sale of marijuana by passing Proposition 64 in 2016. After decades criminalizing the possession, sale, and transportation of marijuana, the Golden State's about-face has upended California's marijuana laws. It's also left decades worth of convictions for marijuana-related offenses on the books, despite many of those convictions no longer being considered crimes. Prop 64 accordingly created a legal process for people to petition a court to have their convictions thrown out, but the process can be tedious. Dismissing Decades of Drug Convictions Cue the San Francisco DA's announcement. San Francisco will apply Prop 64 retroactively, moving on its own to dismiss and seal 3,038 misdemeanor convictions entered prior to Prop 64's passage. As many as 4,940 felony marijuana convictions will, in due time, be recalled and resentenced as well. It's a big solution to a big problem. Individuals convicted of marijuana offenses have to petition courts individually under the new law to remove their convictions. That kind of legal work takes initiative to commence, time to go to court, and money to file and hire lawyers -- three things many people with marijuana convictions might not have in abundance. The SF DA's move does it en masse. What Happens Next? In the absence of statewide legislation or similar efforts in other jurisdictions, Californians looking to utilize Prop 64's recall route will need to petition a court. That's something a good lawyer can help with. Related Resources: Find a Drug Crime Lawyer Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) San Francisco to Dismiss Thousands of Pot Convictions (Reuters) What to Do If You Have a Marijuana Conviction in California (FindLaw's Blotter)
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Guest Post: Marjorie Peerce’s Commitment to Clemency Project Should Be an Inspiration to All

Every once in awhile, we meet people who truly inspire us to be better people and better lawyers. Marjorie Peerce is one of those people. As a partner in the New York office of Ballard Spahr she focuses her practice on white collar, regulatory and commercial defense. Yet since 2014, in addition to her busy practice, she has made time to work tirelessly to recruit and train volunteer lawyers to provide free legal assistance to federal inmates who may be eligible to have their sentences commuted or reduced by the President of the United States. Over 3,000 attorneys across the country have volunteered their time to work on this project, including 100 lawyers from Ballard Spahr. Every application submitted by Ballard Spahr is reviewed by Marjorie. She recently saw the first fruits of her labor and that of her colleagues when, on March 29, 2016, Obama granted clemency to 61 federal inmates, 25 of whom came through Clemency Project 2014 and two of whom were represented by Ballard Spahr attorneys. To put this in context, on April 23, 2014, former Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole announced the DOJ’s initiative to encourage qualified federal inmates to petition to have their sentences commuted or reduced by the President. Under the clemency initiative, the DOJ is prioritizing applications from inmates who meet the following criteria: • Currently serving a federal prison sentence and likely would have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of the same offense today; • Non-violent, low-level offender without significant ties to large-scale criminal organizations, gangs or cartels; • Have served at least 10 years of their prison sentence; • Do not have a significant criminal history; • Have demonstrated good conduct in prison; and • Have no history of violence prior to or during their current term of imprisonment. Approximately 35,000 inmates responded to a Bureau of Prisons questionnaire indicating that they believe they meet the clemency criteria. After the clemency initiative was announced, the Administrative Office of Courts determined that inmates do not have a 6th Amendment right to counsel for the purpose of seeking clemency. As a result, federal money cannot be used to pay attorneys employed by the Federal Defenders or through the Criminal Justice Act to represent inmates under this initiative. In an effort to address the need for federal inmates to obtain legal assistance in submitting clemency applications, Clemency Project 2014 (“CP 2014)” was formed by lawyers from the Federal Defenders, American Civil Liberties Union, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the American Bar Association, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (“NACDL”). CP 2014 lawyers screen inmate requests to determine if they meet the clemency criteria, assign a volunteer lawyer to prisoners who appear to qualify, then assist the inmate in filing the clemency request. To date, 250 clemency applications have been granted by the President; approximately 60 of those applications came through CP 2014. I spoke to Marjorie about the two individuals recently granted clemency by the President who had been assisted by Ballard Spahr attorneys. Kevin County, a 43 year old African American, was convicted in New Orleans for selling small amounts of crack cocaine and heroin. Because he had a prior felony conviction, he received a sentence of 20 years (240 months) in prison and has already served 167 months. He was scheduled for release in 2020. Under current law, Mr. County would have been sentenced to 70-80 months in prison. Last week, Marjorie, together with Joanna Jiang and Erica Leatham, the Ballard Spahr attorneys who worked directly with Mr. County, called Mr. County in prison to tell him that he had been granted clemency by the President and would be released in July. Mr. County’s response was simple but powerful: “God bless you! Thank you!” Marjorie spoke to the New York Times after the announcement and praised President Obama for commuting the sentences of 61 federal inmates including Mr. County and stated “[t]he war on drugs from the 1990s resulted in inordinately harsh and long prison sentences for offenders who did not deserve to serve that length of time.” The other Ballard Spahr client, Angela Laplatney, was represented by Ballard’s Salt Lake City office, including Blake Wade and Melanie Clarke, also received a grant of clemency from a 20 year sentence for selling methamphetamine in Wyoming. Ms. Laplatney had served over 10 years of her sentence and was scheduled to be released in 2022. She, like Mr. County, will be released in July. Marjorie is grateful to Ballard Spahr for supporting the work of CP 2014, and noted that “pro bono is ingrained in the DNA of the firm.” She likewise praised the work of her NACDL partners, Jane Anne Murray and Norman Reimer, who serve on CP 2014’s Steering Committee with her, through which they certify that applications submitted through CP 2014 meet the clemency criteria. Marjorie told me that in over 30 years of practicing law, her work with CP 2014 has been “the single best thing” she’s done. She is on a mission to help as many federal inmates as possible who are serving sentences that, under current law, are “obscenely severe.” The recent grants of clemency by the President have further fueled Marjorie’s drive to help these inmates, and there is no doubt that her efforts in recruiting, training, and mentoring volunteer attorneys will pay off and change the lives of people who, until now, have been resigned to spending many more years in prison. Marjorie’s enthusiasm for CP 2014 is contagious. Lawyers who, like Marjorie Peerce, are willing to give up some of their time to work on this project will cherish the rare opportunity to change lives. By: Sharon L. McCarthy Partner, Kostelanetz & Fink, LLP New York, New York The post Guest Post: Marjorie Peerce’s Commitment to Clemency Project Should Be an Inspiration to All appeared first on Women Criminal Defense Attorneys.
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Drug Dealer Busted by Online Package Tracking

'Tis the season for furiously clicking that "Track Package" button in sales confirmation emails. Whether you're worried about outgoing gifts making it to their destination on time or excited about an incoming present, tracking a package online can become a daily or even hourly obsession. And it can get you arrested, if you happen to be tracking a package full of drugs from China. Track Your Order Harold Bates was doing just that, and it led federal investigators right to his door. Ars Technica tracked down a judge's order from Bates's case, and it's a doozy: In October 2013, U.S. Postal Service (USPS) investigators opened a package in Hollywood, Florida that contained 500 grams of a "white crystal-like substance" that turned out to be the synthetic stimulant methylone. Investigators determined that a computer with an IP address registered to the Rockland, Massachusetts home of Harold Bates was tracking the parcel's whereabouts, and USPS notifications about the parcel's progress from Hong Kong, where it originated, had been sent to Bates's e-mail account. Moreover, they learned that Bates had tracked as many as five other USPS Express Mail packages sent from Hong Kong and China over the previous two months. Track Your Charges Bates was arrested in 2013 and pleaded guilty to importing methylone, or "Molly," in 2015. In the meantime, law enforcement says Bates continued to try and import drugs and even smuggle them into the jail where he was confined. Federal prosecutors say Bates "proceeded to change his email and Skype passwords in order to prevent law enforcement from monitoring any future communications he might have with his Chinese suppliers," and just a few weeks after his initial arrest Bates used a false name to retrieve yet another package from China. When Bates was indicted on drug charges and turned himself in, he allegedly tried to "smuggle drugs into the correctional facility where he was to be detained." Don't import drugs from China, kids. And if you do, maybe be careful about how you track those imported drugs. Finally, if you find yourself in Mr. Bates's position, you should probably contact a criminal defense attorney. Related Resources: Browse Criminal Defense Lawyers by Location (FindLaw Directory) Internet Crime (FindLaw Blotter) Can Cops Pose as Cable Repairmen and Search My Home? (FindLaw Blotter) Calif. Couple Busted Over Alleged Pot Sales on Silk Road 2.0 (FindLaw Blotter)
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