Miz Courts Be Askinn’ fo’ $3.7 Mil to Wipe Them Records Clean

Miz Courts Be Askinn' fo' $3.7 Mil to Wipe Them Records CleanYo, what up fam? Check it, there’s some crazy news coming out of Missouri. So, this clerk from the Missouri Supreme Court was spitting straight facts in a House of Representatives committee meeting on Jan. 17. They were talking about how the state has been wiping out cannabis convictions left and right. Like, they’ve expunged a whopping 103,558 cases! But here’s the thing, not all these old records are digitalized, so these circuit clerks gotta put in mad time and effort to go through every single case to find those that can be expunged.

According to this court clerk named Betsy AuBuchon, they’ve already cleared about 10% of the cannabis-related cases and made them eligible for expungement. But she straight up said, “I can’t even tell you how many more we gotta go.” That’s why she’s asking for a fat $3.7 million in the 2024 budget to help out the Missouri courts with this whole expungement situation.

Now, you might be wondering where the money’s gonna come from. Well, according to Missouri state law, the cash flow from cannabis taxes is supposed to go back into the state’s weed regulation agencies. But anything left over gets tossed to the court system to fund these expungements through a special assistance program. So, it’s like a win-win situation.

Let me break down some of the numbers for ya. Back in March 2023, the state courts got $4.5 million to either pay their employees overtime or hire some temporary workers to speed up this expungement process. Then in May, they were given another $2.5 million in a supplemental budget. That’s some serious cheddar right there.

But hold up, I talked to this communications counsel from the supreme court named Beth Riggert. She mentioned that the circuit courts gotta ask the Circuit Court Budget Committee for a reimbursement. So far, these committees have handed out a cool $4.2 million to county courts. But get this, some of these circuit courts haven’t even requested any special assistance funds because they don’t have enough court clerks who can put in that overtime work or find qualified peeps to help out with this complicated analysis. It’s a struggle, man.

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Now let’s talk about the counties that are getting their fair share of the dough. Green County is sittin’ pretty with a fat $940,000 and they’ve already cleared 4,306 cases. Laclede County ain’t doin’ too shabby either with 3,515 expungements and $35,000 in funds. Then you got St. Louis County with 3,749 expungements and $135,000 in their pocket. Frankline County got 3,200 cases expunged and $53,000 to show for it. Last but not least, Jackson County wiped out 2,900 convictions and got a hefty $195,000.

But yo, time is tickin’! These courts gotta get their act together and expunge all those cannabis-related misdemeanors before June 8, 2024. And they gotta clear out all the felonies by December 8, 2024. It’s gonna be a race against the clock.

This one representative named Maggie Nurrenbern asked when the courts gonna finish up this whole process. But AuBuchon couldn’t give her a straight answer. She just said they’re tryna do their best, ya know?

I talked to this circuit clerk named Bryan Feemster from Greene County about how they’re tackling these expungements. He told me they gotta go through every single criminal record from way back in 1989 to see if there’s anything that qualifies for expungement. And let me tell you, it’s slow and tedious work. But Feemster hired four retired clerks to help out part-time and brought in two more people to sift through all these paper files that can’t be pre-screened. Those six clerks are focused solely on this expungement mission.

So, here’s the deal. Missouri legalized adult-use cannabis through a voter initiative called Amendment 3 back in November 2022. It kicked in the following December and sales started in February 2023. The whole point was to provide automatic expungements for people who already served their time, so they wouldn’t have to go through the courts or attend hearings. But here’s the twist, there’s a lack of digital records, so it’s not as easy as it seems. AuBuchon straight up said, “There ain’t nothin’ automatic about that.”

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Feemster told me they’re pushin’ hard to get this done, man. They gotta go through every single record from 1989 and earlier to find those cases that can be wiped out. And let me tell you, it’s slow and painful work.

Not all counties are lucky enough to find retired clerks to hire though. Johnson County only managed to expunge 529 cases and got $18,000 for that. Marcy Anderson, the circuit clerk from Johnson County, said they’re just grindin’ every day without keepin’ track of how far they’ve come.

Same goes for Jackson County. Valerie Hartman, their spokesperson, said they’ve reviewed 20,000 files and cleared almost 3,000 cases so far. They went through records from 1989-2022 and now they’re tryna figure out how to access old criminal databases for even more cases. They don’t even have an estimate for how many more cases are waiting for ’em.

By November 2023, the county clerks were way behind schedule. But this attorney named Dan Viets, who knows his stuff when it comes to cannabis cases, said they’re makin’ progress and that’s what matters. He said, “As long as they’re makin’ a good faith effort to comply with the law and get those cases expunged, we’ll be satisfied.” It’s tough work, man. They got a whole century of marijuana prohibition to undo in Missouri.

So that’s the scoop, y’all

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