City of Cleveland Pivots After Attempt at Expunging Low-Level Marijuana Convictions Hits Legal Snag

City Council President Blaine Griffin and Mayor Justin Bibb, outside the Justice Center. - SAM ALLARD / SCENE
Sam Allard / Scene
City Council President Blaine Griffin and Mayor Justin Bibb, outside the Justice Center.

City leaders including Mayor Justin Bibb and city council president Blaine Griffin remain committed to getting rid of minor marijuana convictions from the records of thousands of Clevelanders, but the process will be different than they first intended.

Bibb, Griffin and others last month arrived at the Justice Center carrying boxes of filings seeking to expunge cases for around 4,000 residents convicted of minor marijuana possession in the city since 2017.

Last week, however, leaders told Cleveland.com that state law likely prohibits the city from filing for expungement on behalf of residents.

Instead, city prosecutors will now file motions to vacate the convictions and dismiss charges, which will still give thousands a fresh start by reducing barriers to employment and re-entry. But as Cleveland.com notes, Cleveland municipal judge Michelle Earley says there are a few key differences between a case that's been expunged and sealed and one that's been vacated. For one, the initial arrest record still exists, which could prove problematic for someone applying for a job. Second, in cases that are vacated with charges dismissed, the city would likely owe court costs and fines paid back to the defendant.

Griffin said that won't stop the administration's plans.

Earley said that those affected will receive a notice advising them that they can individually ask for their cases to be sealed. A notice will also be posted on the muni court's site.

Muni court judges on the original cases will decide on each filing in the coming months.
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