Marijuana is legal in Missouri, but expungements for past crimes may take time
Missouri’s Amendment 3 laid out specific deadlines for expungement provisions, but courts and legal advocates say there are still unanswered questions about how exactly the process will work.
Missouri state courts have begun the process of issuing expungements of most nonviolent marijuana offenses from people’s records, thanks to the November passage of a state constitutional amendment to legalize recreational marijuana and expunge the records of some who had been criminally charged for its use in the past.
But people familiar with the new law had a word of caution for the nearly 600 Missourians seeking to have the records cleared of marijuana offenses in this phase: It might take a while.
Expungements began on Dec. 8 for people on probation or parole for marijuana offenses involving 3 pounds or less. Their records will be cleared and the remainder of their sentences vacated in circuit courts across the state. The change will affect about 565 people, according to estimates provided by the Missouri Department of Corrections.
For this group, “automatic” means the person is not required by the courts to take any action. But the expungement may not necessarily occur right away, as the courts have a series of deadlines spread out through 2023, and courts will struggle to meet them.
Amendment 3’s expungement deadlines for marijuana-related offenses
- People who are incarcerated, except for driving under the influence or selling to minors, may petition the court to immediately vacate their sentences.
- Those with misdemeanor charges relating to more than 3 pounds of marijuana, who had already completed their supervision, should have their records ordered to be expunged starting June 8, 2023.
- All eligible felony cases related to marijuana must be expunged by Dec. 8, 2023.
- Pending misdemeanor cases and pretrial release cases must be resolved by March 8, 2023.
- Class E felony cases must be resolved by June 6, 2023, and class D felony cases must be resolved by Sept. 4, 2023.
Courts ask for additional funding to handle expungements
Passage of Amendment 3 created a large administrative burden for Missouri’s court system. As a constitutional amendment, the measure does not leave much room for changes from the legislature, though some lawmakers are hoping to expedite the process in 2023. And although the amendment included specific deadlines for expungement, it didn’t provide for additional staffing or funding to get the work done.
“Obviously with the new marijuana law, we’re going to see more changes to expungements. We don’t have a great system in place right now in Missouri for how that’s going to happen,” Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Janette Rodecap said in an information session hosted by the University of Missouri School of Law’s free expungement project.
Rodecap added: “Because this affects a lot of people, there’s going to be a lot of petitions for expungement. And right now the courts are trying to figure out how we’re going to allocate staff and money and resources to identify the cases that are eligible for expungement.”
The Missouri Office of State Courts Administration recently submitted to the legislature a supplemental budget request for 2023, asking for about $2.5 million in additional dollars to cover overtime for clerks and hire additional information technology professionals. But the money could take some time to arrive.
Sydney Ragsdale, an attorney who works with UMKC’s free expungement clinic, said during the information session that courts likely haven’t seen an influx of expungement petitions just yet.
“Everyone’s still just kind of trying to figure out what to do,” she said of the process within the courts. “And the courthouses haven’t been swarmed yet by them, but that may be coming. They’re supposed to be expunged. If they’re not expunged, you have the right to ask questions.”
Since Dec. 1, the Kansas City prosecutor’s office has dismissed more than 2,000 pending municipal marijuana cases and closed an additional 300 convictions that were still open due to probation or outstanding fines, according to a municipal court spokesperson. The court is still waiting for further guidance on how to fully expunge someone’s record.
For the 27 Missourians who the Department of Corrections says are currently incarcerated and eligible for release under Amendment 3, the process is a bit more complicated. Those individuals must fill out a form with their local circuit court to petition for their release, something that legal professionals and advocates worry could be a cumbersome process.
In Jackson County’s 16th Circuit Court, Presiding Judge Dale Youngs issued an administrative order to begin the expungement process in circuit court.
“Per its provisions, the Court is in the process of reviewing thousands of case records to see which ones would qualify for expungements, in addition to processing the petitions for expungements we may receive,” a court spokesperson told The Beacon. “We will begin entering appropriate orders just as quickly as we can. We don’t have any further details on a timeline.”