Will Marijuana Legalization Provide Post-Conviction Relief to Defendants?


About 23 states have enacted laws legalizing some form of marijuana use and/or possession. While this lets many people use the drug without fear of being arrested, those convicted of marijuana-related crimes may wonder if the change in the law means an early release from jail for them or at least an expungement of charges from their criminal records. Unfortunately, the laws in the United States may not permit this type of post-conviction relief. Here's more information about this issue.

Retroactive Ameliorative Relief is not Guaranteed

The United States is one of 22 countries where retroactive ameliorative relief from conviction of crimes that have since been legalized is not a guaranteed right. As it stands now, some prisoners are trapped in time. They must continue to live out the criminal consequences of using or possessing marijuana when it was illegal, even though they may live in a state where it has since been legalized.

This is particularly true of people who were convicted of crimes at the federal level. Even though marijuana may be legal in certain states, use, possession, and distribution of the drug continues to be prohibited by federal law. So even if all 50 states legalized marijuana, people in federal prisons would still be required to finish out their sentences if federal laws remain the same.

While the country may not have retroactive ameliorative relief laws in place at the federal level, however, some individual states do. This means that people who live in states where changes in the law are able to be retroactively applied can petition the court to overturn their sentences and possibly be set free early from jail.

For instance, in March 2014, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a woman who requested to have her conviction for marijuana possession overturned because the state had legalized the drug. The judges unanimously agreed that Colorado's Amendment 64, which was passed in 2012, should be applied retroactively to people who were convicted under previous laws prohibiting use and possession. Therefore Coloradoans serving time may be able to affect an early release or get the charges taken off their criminal records by appealing their convictions in court.


It's important to note that only those whose convictions match the changes in the law are eligible for retroactive ameliorative relief. For instance, Colorado allows people 21 and over to possess one ounce of marijuana at a time, so only people who were convicted of possession of one ounce or less of marijuana would be eligible to appeal their convictions under retroactive ameliorative relief laws. If you had more than an ounce of marijuana, were under 21, or were convicted of other crimes in addition to the possession charge, then you may not be able to use the law to overturn your conviction.

Alternative to Retroactive Ameliorative Relief

Even though a state may not have retroactive ameliorative relief laws in place, it may still be possible to get out of jail early by submitting a request for a pardon or commuted sentence based on the legalization of marijuana. While pardons and commuted sentences don't remove the crime from your record or change your plea from guilty to innocent, it is one way to get out of jail.

Be aware, though, that pardons and commuted sentences are very challenging to obtain. However, you may be more likely to get approved for one if the law is now on your side.

For more information about appealing a conviction based on the legalization of a crime or assistance with filing a request for a pardon or commuted sentence, contact a drug defense attorney, like one from Kassel & Kassel A Group of Independent Law Offices.


8 February 2016

Noni and the Accident

My name is Noni. When I was in college, I was hit by a car while crossing the street. My life was never in danger, but I did break a few bones and had a lot of huge medical bills. I was hoping I wouldn't have to get involved with an attorney, but unfortunately, it came down to that. I used a family friend who is an accident attorney to get some compensation. A few years later, I was hit while riding my bike and had to go through the same process. I suppose I'm lucky to be alive. And it's thanks to accident attorneys that I have been able to put my life back together. I started this blog as a way to let others know just how much lawyers can help you in certain situations.