STATE v. NICHOLAS M. MENDITTO, SC 19272

Judicial District of Tolland

 

    Criminal; Whether P.A. 11-71 “Decriminalized” Possession of Less than One-half Ounce of Marijuana such that Record of Offense must be Erased Pursuant to General Statutes § 54-142d. In 2009, the defendant was convicted of two counts of possession of a controlled substance in violation of General Statutes § 21a-279 (c) after he was twice arrested for possessing a small quantity of marijuana.  While on probation as a result of the convictions, the defendant was again arrested and charged with possession of a small quantity of marijuana and with using drug paraphernalia.  Because of the arrest, the defendant was also charged with violating the terms of his probation.  Subsequently, No. 11-71 of the 2011 Public Acts became effective and modified the penalties for possession of less than one-half ounce of marijuana to make conduct that previously was a crime under § 21a-279 (c) a violation punishable only by a fine.  As a result, the defendant filed petitions pursuant to General Statutes § 54-142d for the destruction of the records of his 2009 convictions and a motion to dismiss the violation of probation proceedings.  Section 54-142d provides that whenever a person has been convicted of an offense and the offense is “decriminalized” subsequent to the date of conviction, the person may petition for erasure of the records and the trial court shall direct that the records be physically destroyed.  The defendant claimed that the public act decriminalized the possession of less than one-half ounce of marijuana by reclassifying as a violation conduct that had previously been a crime.  The trial court disagreed and denied the defendant’s petitions for the destruction of records and his motion to dismiss the probation violation proceedings.  The defendant then pleaded nolo contendere to the violation of probation charge and appealed.  The Appellate Court (147 Conn. App. 232) affirmed the judgments, agreeing with the trial court that the term “decriminalized” in § 54-142d does not encompass the reclassification of a crime to a violation.  The Appellate Court concluded that the meaning of the term decriminalized, as ascertained from the text of § 54-142d and its relationship to other statutes, is plain and unambiguous and is synonymous with the term legalized.  It noted that § 54-142d uses the term “offense,” that the legislature has defined an offense as a crime or a violation, and therefore that decriminalized had to be interpreted to mean legalized to give full meaning to the term “offense.”  The Appellate Court held that because P.A. 11-71 did not legalize the possession of less than one-half ounce of marijuana, the defendant was not entitled to the destruction of the records of his 2009 convictions.  The Supreme Court will decide whether the Appellate Court properly determined that the passage of P.A. 11-71 did not decriminalize the possession of less than one-half ounce of marijuana for purposes of § 54-142d.