Judge: Few take advantage of new law to expunge pot convictions
SOMERTON – Maybe they don’t know or maybe they don’t care, but many people aren’t taking advantage of a new law that allows them to erase convictions for use or possession of small amounts of marijuana, Somerton’s municipal judge says.
Judge Manuel Figueroa wants to make sure they know they have that right under Proposition 207, approved by Arizona voters in November.
The measure legalizes recreational use of small amounts of pot, but it also contains a section that allows people to petition courts expunge prior convictions for possession, transporation or use of up to 2.5 ounces of pot, as well as for possession of parafernalia for marijuana use.
“I would like our citizens to know that they have the right to go to the courts where their cases took place and ask that those convictions be removed,” Figueroa said.
“We have had hundreds, perhaps thousands of cases where people pleaded guilty to marijuana use and were handled as misdemeanors, and it concerns me to know that the government is providing them this right (of expungement) and they’re not using it.”
Beginning in January, Arizonans could begin filing petitions for expungement, Figueroa said, but few have done so. His own court in Somerton has yet to receive a petition, he said.
Provided the petitioner meets all criteria for having a conviction erased, the process for doing so is simple, typically taking 15 to 20 days to complete, Figueroa said.
Figueroa believes many south Yuma County residents are denying themselves that right, given that his more than 200 marijuana cases
reached his court in 2019 alone.
“There could be people who previously couldn’t get a job because they had a record of that type, or it could be that it affected them in immigration cases or in other matters. But now they have this right to remove those prior convictions.
“It strikes me as strange and sad, because this is something that people used to ask about (before Proposition 207), they would ask if we could remove some prior. But now that it can be done, no one has petitioned for it.”
Figueroa said the process of expungement is different from one of setting aside a conviction. In the first case, the prior conviction is removed from the defendant’s record; in the second case, the conviction can not be used in prosecuting other cases against the defendant.
Following approval of Proposition 207, Arizona courts anticipated a need to add staff to handle what was expected to be a rush of petitioners for expungement. In the case of the Somerton Municipal Court, that has not been necessary.
Figueroa urged residents with prior marijuana cases handled in his court to return to find out if their convictions can be erased.