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Conn. Court: Pot Decriminalization Not Retroactive

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File photo of marijuana joint. (credit: PABLO PORCIUNCULA/AFP/Getty Images)

File photo of marijuana joint. (credit: PABLO PORCIUNCULA/AFP/Getty Images)

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut’s second-highest court has ruled that convictions for possessing small amounts of marijuana cannot be erased if they happened before the state changed the law to decriminalize the misdemeanor in 2011.

A three-judge panel of the state Appellate Court rejected an appeal by former Manchester and Bolton resident Nicholas Menditto in a decision that became official Tuesday.

Menditto, 30, wants the state to erase his two convictions for marijuana possession in 2009 and similar charges that were pending against him in 2011 before the new marijuana law took effect. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and legislators changed possession of less than four ounces of pot from a misdemeanor with potential jail time to a violation with a $150 fine for a first offense and fines of $200 to $500 for subsequent offenses.

Menditto’s lawyer, Aaron Romano, said the Appellate Court’s ruling is flawed and he intends to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court — and to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary. He said it is a violation of constitutional due process rights to be prosecuted and convicted of a crime that has been decriminalized.

Romano said there is no question that the convictions and charges against his client — and others — should be erased, because Connecticut decriminalized possession of small amounts of pot and another state law allows the erasure of convictions for offenses that subsequently are decriminalized.

“This is an opinion by some rebellious judges who don’t want to recognize the will of the people,” Romano said.

He added that the new law was meant to avoid giving people criminal records — and the societal problems that come with having criminal convictions — for having small amounts of marijuana.

The Appellate Court, however, agreed with the state’s argument that the term “decriminalization,” as used in the state law allowing erasure of convictions for offenses that are decriminalized, means legalization. The court concluded the state has not legalized possession of less than four ounces of marijuana, so any conviction before the new law took effect should stand.

Judges Alexandra DiPentima, Bethany Alvord and William Sullivan also noted that state law and repeated court rulings make it clear that repealing penalties for crimes doesn’t affect past convictions or pending prosecutions for the same crimes, and that people who commit crimes are liable under the laws that exist at the time.

Romano said he is representing other clients who are seeking to have their marijuana convictions overturned because of the 2011 law.

In September, Menditto was sentenced to six months in jail and two years of probation on narcotics possession and other charges. A state Department of Correction spokeswoman said Menditto currently is free under a “transitional supervision” program that is similar to parole.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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