Do I need an Expungement, or Pardon, or both?

According to news reports,

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin for the second year running promised to pardon those convicted of minor marijuana offenses in the city.

Woodfin made the announcement in a tweeted video on April 4, or 4/20 – the widely recognized unofficial holiday for marijuana. . .

“Happy 4/20. Today, I’m continuing what I started last year and pardoning closed minor marijuana convictions from 4/20/21 – 12/31/21. Too many Alabamians are left out of economic opportunities due to prior marijuana convictions. Legalize marijuana and end this injustice.”

Woodfin In 2021pardoned more than 15,000 city residents convicted of possessing marijuana between 1990 and 2020.

This is good news for people which have been convicted of possession of marijuana by the municipal courts of Birmingham.

However, I’d like to make a few points:

First, let’s define some terms. “Pardon” is different from “Expungement.” In the words of the Alabama Supreme Court, a pardon blots out of existence the guilt with respect to the pardoned convictions, making the pardoned, in the eye of the law, a new and an innocent man. Ex parte Casey, 852 So. 2d 175, 181 (Ala. 2002) On the other hand, as described by the ABA: ““expungement” is the process by which a record of criminal conviction is destroyed or sealed from state or federal record.” (Note: the arrest “record” remains in NCIC database.)

Second, Mayor Woodfin can only pardon convictions under his executive authority. In other words, if you have been convicted of possession of marijuana elsewhere, he cannot pardon you. For instance, convictions for possession of marijuana in the district or circuit courts of Jefferson cannot be pardoned by the Mayor, even though offense may have occurred in Birmingham. However, other mayors do not need to be as bold as Mayor Woodfin; they can pardon individuals with convictions within their particular municipal courts on an case-by-case basis. (Only the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles can pardon state court convictions.)

Third, a pardon doesn’t remove the conviction from your record. Even if you gain a pardon, you still would need to seek an expungement to remove the evidence of the prior conviction from public records. Therefore, for those people that have been pardoned by Mayor Woodfin, unless expunged, their prior conviction remains open for inspection in the public record and clerk’s computer registries, available for any employer, investigator, or nosy neighbor to find.

Fourth, while the mayor cannot pardon offenses outside city courts of Birmingham, a pardon may still impact current cases elsewhere. In Alabama, if you have a prior conviction for Possession of Marijuana in the Second degree (simple possession), a second charge of simple possession likely will become a Possession of Marijuana in the First Degree, a felony. Accordingly, a pardon of the prior marijuana conviction, may eliminate the ability of the DA to enhance the new charge. If you have a prior misdemeanor conviction, my advice: seek a pardon of that conviction.

Fifth, if you have a felony Possession of Marijuana conviction or any non-violent felony conviction, you will need to seek a pardon from the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles before you can get an expungement. (There are certain convictions which cannot be expunged in Alabama including violent offenses, sex offenses, serious traffic offense, and crimes involving moral turpitude.)

As I wrote before, it is smart to have expansive expungement:

“It hurts communities, it hurts counties and it hurts states if their citizens cannot be productively employed or aren’t part of the tax base,” says American University law professor Jenny Roberts, who has written extensively on the collateral consequences of convictions. “So there’s certainly an economic incentive for allowing people to move beyond their criminal record.”

. . .

With background checks ubiquitous for jobs, schools, mortgage applications and more, even one conviction — and sometimes even just one arrest — can dog people for years, critics say, relegating them to permanent second-class status.

“No one should underestimate how much even the most minor of misdemeanor convictions — including marijuana or trespassing or any kind of conviction — can affect someone’s ability to get a job, to get housing and to function fully in society,” says Roberts, who also co-directs the Criminal Justice Clinic at American University in Washington, D.C.

Let us walk you through this dance. If you have a prior conviction, let us perhaps pursue a pardon and expungement.