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Connecticut Judges Erasing Pot Convictions at High Rate

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut judges have granted more than 80 percent of requests to erase marijuana possession convictions since the state decriminalized small amounts of pot in 2011, state Judicial Branch records show.

Superior Court judges have approved 32 of 39 petitions to erase convictions for marijuana possession in the past four years, after Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and state lawmakers downgraded possession of less than a half-ounce of pot from a misdemeanor with potential jail time to a violation akin to a parking ticket, with fines ranging from $150 for a first offense to up to $500 for subsequent offenses.

Although the number of erasures is small compared with the thousands of arrests for marijuana possession in Connecticut over the years, defense lawyers expect many more people to apply as word spreads about a recent state Supreme Court decision. The court ruled in March that people have the right to get their convictions erased.

Eight of the 32 petitions that were granted since 2011 were approved after the high court’s ruling. Only eight petitions to erase marijuana convictions are now pending in state courts, according to the Judicial Branch.

“The biggest problem is that not many people are aware. Some people aren’t aware of what their rights are,” Bloomfield attorney Aaron Romano said.

The case of one of Romano’s clients, Nicholas Menditto, was the one that led to the Supreme Court ruling. The state at first denied Menditto’s requests to erase his two convictions for marijuana possession in 2009, but a judge recently approved his petitions in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling.

Menditto, who has other criminal convictions that remain on his record, said his main goal in taking the case to the state Supreme Court was to help others who may be having problems getting jobs or obtaining public housing because of minor pot convictions.

“It benefits the thousands of other people out there who only have these small marijuana convictions on their record,” he said. “It’s important. I’m just happy I’m helping other people.”

Romano said several other clients have applied for erasure, including one who was facing deportation because of a conviction. That client was able to get the conviction erased and the deportation order rescinded, Romano said. He declined to name that person.

Other states also have been considering allowing erasure after decriminalizing minor marijuana crimes. Lawmakers in at least six states are currently considering bills that deal with expungement, sealing or setting aside of certain marijuana convictions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Those states are Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington.

Colorado, Washington state, Washington, D.C., and Alaska have legalized the recreational use of pot. Oregon’s law legalizing it takes effect in July. Connecticut and 22 other states allow marijuana for medicinal purposes, and 19 states have decriminalized possession of varying amounts.

Hartford attorney Corey Brinson said he received three to four dozen calls from people inquiring about getting their pot convictions erased after the Supreme Court ruling, including a client who just got his conviction erased last week. Not everyone who called him qualified for erasure, because they were caught with more than a half-ounce of pot, he said.

Brinson also believes more convicts will come forward as word continues to spread about the Supreme Court ruling.

“People who have other serious convictions even want to take advantage of the new rules,” Brinson said. “I think people want the least amount of bad news following them as possible.”

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