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Class Action Lawsuit Amended Seeking Damages for 400,000 Individuals with Expunged and Vacated Convictions

The class-action lawsuit Drayton vs. State of New Jersey to help those with expunged records has been amended after the State sought to have it dismissed.

Attorney William Riback filed a brief as a response to the State of New Jersey’s motion to dismiss. The amendment seeks to have the fines of all individuals convicted of Cannabis possession charges returned to those convicted. The New Jersey Supreme Court reported that approximately 400,000 individuals had their convictions expunged and vacated and paid about $1,000.00 in fines. 

The Brief argues that when a criminal conviction is expunged it is vacated, treated as though it never happened. It is a cornerstone of democracy as part of English Common Law from the medieval Kingdom of England. Even the King of England returned the fines he collected when one of his subjects had his conviction vacated.

The United States Supreme Court in Nelson v. Colorado (2017) and courts throughout the country which have had this issue raised uniformly require that the fines are returned to anyone whose conviction is expunged and vacated. Again and again, the cases say that a vacated order is an order that never existed. After a record is expunged and there is no longer a conviction, the individual is returned to the status before the conviction arose. Everyone has a presumption of innocence. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a person who has always been innocent is entitled to the return of his fines and costs with no effort.

Plaintiffs Arnelle Drayton and Marquise Jennings could play an important role in this litigation, understanding the legal direction of this case. These are hard-working men to whom $1,000.00 means a lot. Living Black in America is a different experience with higher hurdles. These men struggling with adversity coughed up hard-earned money for the lie that makes cannabis a Schedule I narcotic. They fully understand being short-changed. They want to tell their story if given the chance.

Expungement Issues

The suit argues that these men should have access to the Courts through the 1947 New Jersey Constitution, which was written in the context of genocide. The Plaintiffs argue that denial of access to the courts for Black people denies them their societal standing. It should be easy to realize that the Black predicament has a direct path from slavery to discrimination in Cannabis arrests. The Brief relies on the New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander to argue that discrimination has persisted unabated. The means shifted from slavery to discriminatory laws to colorblind discrimination. The Brief goes on to argue what the State of New Jersey accepts out of one side of its mouth. That is that the “War on Drugs” was what Michelle Alexander calls it to be: “systemic discrimination.” What that means in her eyes is that there is a permanent underclass branded with the Plant. 

Riback argues there was selective enforcement of cannabis prohibition in the modern era that was blatant discrimination and ignored. John Gettman, who worked on the 2013 ACLU report, has indicated that the statistics that Blacks are arrested at higher rates may actually be worse than 3.7 times more likely because Hispanics were counted as White in the data set from municipalities. 

From the State of New Jersey conceding its sins, it morphs into another mouth in the Impact Zones where the rubber meets the road. The language of the Impact Zones blames Black gangs for causing increased police presence. That is absolutely ludicrous. Wasn’t it the criminalization of an arguably benevolent plant that caused the blight? It really is an astonishing piece of work. Impact Zones under Tier 4a are somehow affluent white communities. Dollars to doughnuts, there was no Black distribution in these communities. They would stick out like a sore thumb.

Impact Zone Problems

The lawsuit contends the cannabis tax revenue the Impact Zone towns will receive is supposed to remedy the harm done to the War on Drugs victims and their communities. However, the law gives money to Impact Zone towns that are affluent white-majority towns, which the suit argues that prosperous towns do not need the tax dollars that everyone would have believed was helping those who were hurt.

The suit is based on a public disclosure document from the Cannabis Regulatory Commission that highlighted the anomalous inequities. The CRC Report calls them “outliers”:

  1. Morris Plains
  2. Metuchen
  3. Morristown
  4. Hanover
  5. Wayne
  6. East Brunswick
  7. Riverdale borough
  8. South Plainfield borough
  9. Lawrence township (Mercer County)
  10. Evesham township
  11. Jersey City
  12. Mantoloking borough
  13. North Brunswick
  14. Bordentown township
  15. Eastampton township
  16. Berlin borough
  17. Franklin township (Somerset County)
  18. Lumberton township
  19. Franklin township (Gloucester)
  20. Dennis township
  21. Pennsauken township

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) just happens to be a Solicitor in two of the selected municipalities. Riback argues that this was not some dumb stroke of luck. The State will have the chance to say Riback is just wrong.

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