April 4, 2023
OG Article: here.
View our Fair Use Policy: here.
In just a few weeks, Chief State's Attorney Patrick J. Griffin's prosecutors reviewed more than 4,000 pending drug-possession cases and have dropped charges on 1,562 of them, in an expansion of Connecticut's criminal erasure program following the 2021 legislation to create an adult-use recreational market.
The review and termination of cases occurred as state lawmakers are drafting a bill to order the state Division of Criminal Justice to stop prosecuting cannabis-only cases, as part of the follow-up to the full legalization of cannabis. In communications to the General Assembly's Judiciary Committee, Griffin said that because the state law included cannabis among a list of other controlled substances, including cocaine and heroin, his office had to individually review each pending case.
Of the 4,248 cases, 1,773 included substances other than marijuana, while 624 cases will be modified, dropping cannabis from the overall charges, Griffin wrote in a letter to the committee last Friday, the deadline day for the panel to act. The legislation passed along party lines in the committee, 27-10, but state Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, co-chairman of the panel, said that in coming weeks, the bill is likely to be amended before it reaches the House floor for debate.
"It has been the shared position of this committee and the division that persons charged with a possession of a cannabis-type substance offense that has subsequently been de-criminalized should not be prosecuted for that offense," Griffin wrote. "Thus, identifying these cannabis cases could not be accomplished merely by conducting a computerized review of pending cases. The 4,248 cases statewide including 2,139 pending and 2,109 in re-arrest status. "This was no small task and quite labor intensive."
The bill was aimed at essentially cleaning up cases not addressed directly in the legalization legislation, which also ordered the erasure of criminal records for cannabis possession. The proposal would also order the Division of Criminal Justice to end the prosecution of pending cannabis-related cases, while reviewing the sentences of cannabis-related crimes for future modification.
"This clears up confusion that may have been created under the legalization-of-cannabis process, whereby certain offenses that were pending before cannabis legalization remained pending even after that legislation was adopted," Stafstrom said as the Judiciary Committee headed toward its afternoon deadline on Friday. "I want to specifically thank the office of the Chief State’s Attorney, who I know heard the concerns, the bipartisan concerns of this committee at the public hearing in terms of getting those cases dismissed."
1,562 cannabis cases dropped in state judicial districts
District Cases reviewed Cannabis cases dropped
Ansonia Milford 236 82
Danbury 92 66
Fairfield 410 80
Hartford 829 65
Litchfield 103 10
Middlesex 166 100
New Britain 354 136
New Haven 454 247
New London 454 233
Stamford 470 176
Tolland 277 133
Waterbury 297 206
Windham 106 42
Total 4,248 1,562
Stafstrom said that while Griffin's actions might eliminate the need for one section of the proposed new law, another part, allowing for sentence modification for those sentenced prior to the legalization, needs to remain.
State Rep. Greg Howard, R-Stonington, a police officer, also praised Griffin's office.
"I think everyone needs to understand it’s not as simple as this individual has a pending statutory charge," Howard said. "This is extremely time- consuming. To go by hand through 4,248 cases in less than a month, I think is remarkable, and when the chief state's attorney testified, he assured us that while the statute doesn’t specifically say that it was retroactive to pending cases, he understands the legislative intent, he accepts that and he has made that clear to all of his state’s attorneys and obviously they have been hard at work about that. To say that his office has worked hard on this since that discussion is grossly understating what he has done. He should be commended for the work he has done."
"They didn’t have to go through those thousands of files in a short period of time," said Rep. Craig Fishbein of Wallingford, a top Republican on the committee. "I wish every administrative agency quite frankly acted in that manner."
Griffin said on Monday that it was an issue of "fundamental fairness" to review the cases dismiss charges.
"The legislature made clear to the Division of Criminal Justice that it intended for the new cannabis laws to apply to people who had charges pending on the date the law went into effect," Griffin said in a statement. "Understanding the intent of the legislature, the division undertook an expedited review of its files to respect the legislature’s wishes. The state’s attorneys and their offices should be commended for their efforts and their commitment to addressing these cases in such a timely manner.”