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Chris March 16, 2015

The Connecticut Supreme Court handed down a new decision this morning in the case of State v. Menditto. The Court effectively held that criminal convictions for the possession of less than a half ounce of marijuana could be erased pursuant to the state’s erasure law.

Remember, back in 2011 when the state legislature decriminalized the possession of less than a half-ounce of marijuana. Simple possession (but not sale or possession with intent to sell) would be a violation and not a crime (not a misdemeanor or felony). Punishment could only be a fine and not jail and would not lead to a criminal conviction. That did not mean that marijuana was completely decriminalized–possession of a half-ounce or more was still criminal, and so was dealing. (If you clicked the statute link, you’d have noticed that the marijuana statute is in Chapter 420b).

As good as that law was to cut down on drug convictions, what about the people who already suffered arrests and convictions for this no-longer-criminal offense? Connecticut has a legal process wherein such situated people can petition the convicting court for the conviction to be erased. Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 54-142d provides

Sec. 54-142d. Destruction of record of decriminalized offense. Whenever any person has been convicted of an offense in any court in this state and such offense has been decriminalized subsequent to the date of such conviction, such person may file a petition with the superior court at the location in which such conviction was effected, or with the superior court at the location having custody of the records of such conviction or with the records center of the Judicial Department if such conviction was in the Court of Common Pleas, Circuit Court, municipal court or by a trial justice, for an order of erasure, and the Superior Court or records center of the Judicial Department shall direct all police and court records and records of the state’s or prosecuting attorney pertaining to such case to be physically destroyed.

Nicholas Menditto and his attorneys Naomi Fetterman and Aaron Romano tried this. It seems pretty clear. Why did it take the state Supreme Court to step in? The trial court denied his petition and so did the Appellate Court. The State and lower courts asserted that decriminalized meant fully legal. Marijuana is not (yet) wholly legal in Connecticut. The Supreme Court disagreed, saying that decriminalization as used in the erasure statute includes offenses that were crimes and reclassified into non-criminal violations.

Many people are still carrying around the convictions of the old law. Expect there to be more petitions and a streamlined process for them coming soon. More if and when actual marijuana legalization occurs in this state. It isn’t just persons convicted of drug crimes who can benefit from this law. Second-degree sexual assault (“statutory rape”) was also modified to essentially decriminalize sex acts between people of certain ages. Laws can and do change. Be sure to stay informed about future developments. While the past indignity and punishments cannot be erased, future problems can.

Link to State v. Menditto decision: