June 23, 2015

State Supreme Court Decision Concerning Decriminalized Crimes

OLR Report 2015-R-0135 provides a summary of the court’s decision in State v. Menditto regarding erasure of a criminal record after a crime is decriminalized.

In this case, the Connecticut Supreme Court considered whether the reduction of penalties for illegal possession of marijuana following the enactment of Public Act (PA) 11-71 decriminalized the possession of less than one-half ounce of marijuana, that is, whether changing the status of an illegal act from a crime to a minor civil violation constitutes decriminalization for purposes of the erasure statute (State v. Menditto, 315 Conn. 861 (2015)).

To answer the question, the court reviewed the issue de novo (i.e., as if it were considering the question for the first time, affording no deference to lower courts’ decisions). The court first examined the erasure statute’s text and its relationship to the broader statutory scheme. Finding that the term ‘‘decriminalized’’ is not defined in state statutes, the court reviewed a range of sources, including dictionaries, other statutes, judicial decisions, and common law.

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Court, noting that when the law changed, it made possession of small amounts of marijuana possession a civil infraction. The court ruled that Menditto had the right to the erasure of his two 2009 convictions for possession of less than one-half ounce of marijuana. He would still have to petition the court for erasure, because erasure is not automatic.

For more information, click here to read the full report.