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State v. Dudley

Supreme Court of Connecticut

August 6, 2019

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
LIONEL G. DUDLEY

          Argued January 24, 2019

         Procedural History

         Substitute information charging the defendant with the crime of possession of narcotics and with two counts of violation of probation, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New London, geographical area number twenty-one, where the defendant was presented to the court, Clifford, J., on a plea of guilty to the charge of possession of narcotics and on an admission of violation of probation; judgment of guilty in accordance with the plea and finding the defendant in violation of probation; thereafter, the court, Newson, J., granted the defendant's petition for the destruction of certain records relating to the conviction of possession of narcotics and denied the defendant's petition for the destruction of certain records relating to the finding of violation of probation, and the defendant appealed. Affirmed.

          Laila M. G. Haswell, senior assistant public defender, for the appellant (defendant).

          Denise B. Smoker, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Michael L. Regan, state's attorney, and Stacey M. Miranda, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

          Robinson, C. J., and Palmer, McDonald, D'Auria, Mullins, Kahn and Ecker, Js.

          OPINION

          D'AURIA, J.

         In 2011, our General Assembly changed the penalty for possessing less than one-half ounce of marijuana from a potential term of imprisonment and/ or a large fine to merely a fine. See Public Acts 2011, No. 11-71 (P.A. 11-71), codified at General Statutes § 21a-279a.[1] Subsequently, in State v. Menditto, 315 Conn. 861, 863, 110 A.3d 410 (2015), this court held that P.A. 11-71 ‘‘decriminalized'' the possession of less than one-half ounce of marijuana for purposes of this state's erasure statute, General Statutes § 54-142d.[2] In the present case, the defendant asks us to hold that § 54-142d also compels the erasure of a finding of a violation of probation that he claims was premised on the now decriminalized offense of possession of less than one-half ounce of marijuana. The trial court rejected the defendant's argument, and we affirm the trial court's decision.

         The record reveals the following undisputed facts and procedural history, which are relevant to the resolution of this appeal. In 2007, the defendant pleaded guilty under the Alford doctrine[3] to possession of narcotics in violation of General Statutes (Rev. to 2005) § 21a-279 (a). The trial court sentenced him to thirty months of imprisonment, execution suspended, and two years of probation. The terms of probation included that the defendant ‘‘not violate any criminal law of the United States, this state or any other state or territory.'' The court also ordered special conditions of probation, including substance abuse evaluation and twenty hours of community service.

         In July, 2008, the defendant was arrested again, this time on a charge of selling narcotics. Pursuant to a September, 2009 plea agreement, he admitted to violating his probation, and the court extended his probation for another year. The court accepted a nolle prosequi from the state on the underlying narcotics charge.

         With approximately eight days remaining on the defendant's extended probation, in July, 2010, the police found him in possession of less than one-half ounce of marijuana. Subsequently, an arrest warrant issued for the defendant, alleging that he had engaged in the sale of a controlled substance in violation of the conditions of his probation prohibiting the violation of any criminal law of the United States, this state or any other state. The arrest warrant also alleged that the defendant failed to provide verification that he had completed the twenty hours of community service. He was arrested and charged with possession and sale of a controlled substance, and with violating his probation. In July, 2012, he pleaded guilty under the Alford doctrine to the misdemeanor charge of possession of less than four ounces of marijuana in violation of General Statutes (Rev. to 2009) § 21a-279 (c).[4] Also during the plea proceedings, the defendant admitted to the probation violation. The prosecutor stated on the record that the violation of probation charge was premised on both the defendant's arrest on the charge of sale of a controlled substance, as well as on the charge of possession of marijuana.[5] The defendant was sentenced to one year of incarceration, execution suspended, and one year of probation, and was required to make a charitable contribution of $250.[6]

         In 2011, the legislature enacted P.A. 11-71, which changed the penalty for possessing less than one-half of an ounce of marijuana from a potential term of imprisonment and/or a fine to merely a fine of $150 for a first offense and a fine of between $200 and $500 for subsequent offenses. See General Statutes § 21a-279a (a).[7] In a decision officially released on March 24, 2015, this court held in State v. Menditto, supra, 315 Conn. 871, that P.A. 11-71 had the effect of ‘‘decriminalizing'' the possession of less than one-half of an ounce of marijuana, thus permitting a defendant to take advantage of the state's erasure statute, § 54-142d. As a result, an individual convicted of possessing less than one-half of an ounce of marijuana may petition the court to have the records ‘‘pertaining to such case'' erased under § 54142d. See State v. Menditto, supra, 876.

         In September, 2015, in response both to the enactment of P.A. 11-71 and this court's 2015 decision in Menditto, the defendant in the present case filed a petition seeking erasure of the records related to his 2012 marijuana conviction. Because the defendant's July, 2012 conviction, which was based on his July, 2010 arrest, was for less than one-half of an ounce of marijuana, the trial court granted the defendant's motion.

         In April, 2016, the defendant filed another petition, this time seeking erasure of the 2012 finding that he had violated his probation. The defendant argued that, because his 2012 marijuana conviction had been erased from his record, no conviction any longer supported the violation of probation finding. The trial court denied the defendant's motion, reasoning that ‘‘you don't need any conviction to violate your probation. . . . [It] is a standard condition of probation that you not violate any ...


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