OLR Bill Analysis
AN ACT CONCERNING A SECOND CHANCE SOCIETY.
1. reduces the penalties for current felony drug possession crimes to class A misdemeanors;
2. restricts the scope of the crime of possessing drugs within 1,500 feet of a school or day care center to possession on their grounds, and changes the penalty to a class E felony;
3. reduces the size of the Board of Pardons and Paroles from 20 to between 10 and 15 members, while increasing the number of members who serve full-time from six to 10;
4. removes the bar on board members serving on both parole and pardons panels;
5. allows the board to consider an inmate for release on parole after an evaluation, but without a hearing, if he or she was convicted of a non-violent crime and the board does not know of any victim of the crime;
6. expands the board chairman's authority, in consultation with the board's executive director, to adopt regulations on an expedited pardons review process;
7. requires the board to develop a pardon eligibility notice explaining the pardons process and requires providing the notice to people when they are sentenced; are released from the Department of Correction (DOC); and complete parole, probation, or conditional discharge; and
8. makes technical and conforming changes.
EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2015, except the changes to the board's membership and panels and expedited pardons requirement take effect June 30, 2015, and the provisions on pardon eligibility notices and parole release without a hearing are effective July 1, 2015.
§§ 1-8—DRUG POSSESSION CRIMES
Drug Possession Penalties
The bill reduces, from felonies to class A misdemeanors, the penalty for (1) possessing narcotics, hallucinogens (other than marijuana), or more than 4 ounces of marijuana and (2) subsequent offenses of possessing .5 to 4 ounces of marijuana or controlled substances other than narcotics or hallucinogens. A class A misdemeanor is punishable by up to one year in prison, a fine of up to $2,000, or both.
Currently, a first offense of possessing .5 to 4 ounces of marijuana or controlled substances that are not narcotics or hallucinogens is an unclassified misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. The bill makes this crime a class A misdemeanor, thus increasing the maximum fine from $1,000 to $2,000, and leaving the maximum prison term unchanged.
The bill's changes make all types of drug possession class A misdemeanors, except for drug possession on school or day care property (see below) or possessing less than ½ ounce of marijuana (see BACKGROUND). Table 1 shows the current penalties for the drug possession crimes that become class A misdemeanors under the bill.
Table 1: Drug Possession Penalties Under Current Law That Become Class A Misdemeanors Under the Bill
Penalties Under Current Law
Narcotics (i.e., heroin, cocaine, and crack)
1st offense: up to seven-year prison term, up to a $50,000 fine, or both
2nd offense: up to 15-year prison term, up to a $100,000 fine, or both
Subsequent offenses: up to 25-year prison term, up to a $250,000 fine, or both
Alternative sentence: up to 3-year indeterminate prison term with conditional release by DOC commissioner
4 oz. or more of marijuana or any quantity of other hallucinogens
1st offense: class D felony punishable by up to 5-year prison term, up to a $5,000 fine, or both
Subsequent offenses: class C felony, punishable by up to a 10-year prison term, up to a $10,000 fine, or both
Alternative sentence: up to 3-year indeterminate prison term with conditional release by correction commissioner
Any other illegal drug or at least ½ oz. but less than 4 oz. of marijuana
1st offense: up to one-year prison term, up to a $1,000 fine, or both
Subsequent offenses: class D felony
Alternative sentence for subsequent offenses only: up to three-year indeterminate prison term with conditional release by DOC commissioner
The bill also extends eligibility for release to home confinement by the DOC commissioner to inmates sentenced for any type of drug possession crime. Currently, this applies to those sentenced for possessing .5 to four ounces of marijuana or controlled substances that are not narcotics or hallucinogens. By law, released offenders cannot leave their homes without authorization; DOC can require electronic monitoring, drug testing, and other conditions; and offenders can be returned to prison for violating release conditions.
By reducing the penalty from a felony to a misdemeanor for the types of drug possession described above, the bill eliminates certain consequences of a conviction. For example, a felon:
1. loses his or her right to vote and hold office while incarcerated or on parole, but later can have those rights restored (CGS §§ 9-46 and -46a);
2. is disqualified from jury service for seven years (CGS § 51-217); and
3. could have his or her felony conviction considered as a factor in denying, suspending, or revoking certain state-issued professional licenses and credentials, such as those for many health care providers, professional bondsmen, and electricians.
However, the bill does not change certain consequences of a conviction of these types of drug possession, including provisions:
1. allowing the Police Officer Standards and Training Council (POST) to cancel or revoke a POST-certified officer's certificate;
2. making a person ineligible for a state permit to carry a pistol or revolver or an eligibility certificate for a pistol, revolver, or long gun (The bill also makes conforming changes to criminal possession of a pistol, revolver, firearm, ammunition, or electronic defense weapon.); and
3. allowing the appropriate commissioner to refuse to issue, suspend, or revoke a family day care home license, an approval for a family day care home staff member, a bail enforcement agent license, or a surety bail bond agent license (§§ 2-7 and CGS §§ 19a-87e, 29-152f, and 38a-660).
By reducing the penalty for these crimes to a class A misdemeanor, the bill no longer allows a juvenile charged with one of these crimes to be tried in adult court and sentenced as an adult. Currently, for juveniles ages 14 through 17 who are charged with felony drug possession, the prosecutor can request a hearing on whether the case should be transferred from juvenile court to the Superior Court. The court can transfer the case to the adult court if (1) there is probable cause the child committed the crime and (2) both the child's and public's best interests are not served if the case remains in juvenile court. If the case is transferred to the Superior Court, the court can return the case to the juvenile court for good cause (CGS § 46b-127(b)). Under the bill, juveniles charged with these crimes must have their cases heard in juvenile court.
Drug Possession on School or Day Care Property
Under current law, there is an enhanced penalty for committing one of the possession crimes described in Table 1 within 1,500 feet of (1) an elementary or secondary school by someone who is not attending the school or (2) a licensed day care center identified as such by a sign posted in a conspicuous place. The penalty is a mandatory two-year prison term running consecutively to the prison term imposed for the underlying possession crime, but a judge can depart from the mandatory sentence under certain circumstances (see BACKGROUND).
The bill restricts the scope of this crime to possession crimes on school or day care center property. It also changes the penalty to a class E felony which, by law, is punishable by up to three years in prison, a fine of up to $3,500, or both.
§ 9—BOARD OF PARDONS AND PAROLES MEMBERS AND PANELS
Under current law, the Board of Pardons and Paroles consists of 20 members, with six full-time members (including the chairman) and 14 part-time members.
On July 1, 2015, the bill reduces the board's membership from 20 to between 10 and 15. It does so by increasing the number of full-time board members from six to 10, ending the terms of current part-time members on June 30, 2015, and reducing the number of part-time members from 14 to a maximum of five, as determined by the governor.
The bill retains most of the existing appointment procedures including qualifications for members, appointing members as either full-time or part-time, referring nominations to the Judiciary Committee, and approval by both houses of the legislature. But the bill:
1. allows the governor, through September 1, 2015, to appoint someone as a part-time member without legislative approval if the appointee was a part-time member whose term ended under the bill's provisions on June 30, 2015 and
2. no longer requires designating appointees as parole or pardons panel members (currently 12 appointments serve on parole panels, seven serve on pardons panels, and the chairman can serve on both; the bill removes the restriction on serving on both types of panels).
As under current law, a parole panel must consist of two members and the chairman or a full-time member designated by the chairman. Beginning January 1, 2016, the bill requires parole panels to have at least three members present. It also specifies that a decision of the board or a panel must be by majority of those present.
§§ 9 & 11-13—PAROLE DECISIONS WITHOUT A HEARING
The bill creates a procedure to allow the board to consider certain inmates for release on parole without a hearing. This applies to an inmate who:
1. was not convicted of a crime involving a victim, known to the board, who was injured or killed (a) in a crime or criminal attempt or (b) while attempting to prevent a crime, apprehend a suspect, or assist a police officer in apprehension;
2. was not convicted of a violent crime or certain other crimes including 2nd degree burglary, 1st degree stalking, and criminally negligent homicide; and
3. is not prohibited from parole for any other reason.
Generally, inmates eligible for release under the bill's procedures could be released on parole under existing law after serving 50% of their sentences. They can also be released within six months of the end of their sentences if they agree to DOC supervision for one year and to be returned to prison for the unexpired term of their sentences for violating parole conditions.
Under the bill, a board member or certain board employees can evaluate a person's parole eligibility by (1) using risk-based structured decision making and release criteria under the board's policies and (2) reviewing an inmate's offender accountability plan, including the environment to which the inmate plans to return. An employee can only conduct this evaluation if he or she is qualified by education, experience, or training in administering community corrections, parole, pardons, criminal justice, criminology, offender evaluation or supervision, or providing offenders with mental health services.
The bill requires the board's chairman to present a member's or employee's parole recommendation to a parole release panel for approval after making reasonable efforts to obtain all information pertinent to the decision and certifying that it has been obtained or is unavailable. After he does so, the panel determines whether the person is suitable for release on parole.
§ 9—EXPEDITED PARDONS PROCESS
The bill expands the board chairman's authority, in consultation with the board's executive director, to adopt regulations for an expedited pardons process.
Under current law, the chairman, in consultation with the executive director, can adopt regulations to allow people to receive a pardon without a hearing, unless a victim requests one, if the person was:
1. convicted of a misdemeanor and (a) it is no longer a crime, (b) he or she was under age 21 at the time of the conviction and has no convictions during the five years before receiving the pardon, or (c) he or she was convicted before pretrial programs were created that the person would likely have been eligible for and participated in or
2. convicted of (a) illegal drug manufacture, distribution, sale, prescription, or dispensing; (b) illegal drug manufacture, distribution, sale, prescription, or dispensing by a non-drug-dependent person; or (c) illegal drug possession; he or she has no convictions during the five years before receiving the pardon; and it is at least 10 years since the person's conviction and release from prison.
The bill expands the expedited pardons process to allow anyone convicted of a nonviolent crime to receive a pardon without a hearing unless a victim requests one. (The bill does not define a nonviolent crime.)
§ 10—PARDON ELIGIBILITY NOTICE
The bill requires the board to develop, by January 1, 2016, a pardon eligibility notice that explains the pardons process. The board must work with the Judicial Branch and DOC to provide the notice whenever a person is sentenced by the court, released from DOC including on pretrial release, completing parole, and completing probation or conditional discharge. The board must update the notice as necessary.
Departure from Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Drug Crimes
Except for certain drug sale, manufacture, or distribution crimes, judges can impose less than the mandatory minimum sentence when no one was hurt during the crime and the defendant (1) did not use or attempt or threaten to use physical force; (2) was unarmed; and (3) did not threaten to use or suggest that he or she had a firearm, other deadly weapon (e.g., a switchblade knife), or other instrument that could cause death or serious injury. Defendants must show good cause and can invoke these provisions only once. Judges must state at sentencing hearings their reasons for (1) imposing the sentence and (2) departing from the mandatory minimum (CGS § 21a-283a).
Possessing Less Than 1/2 Ounce of Marijuana
By law, possessing less than .5 ounce of marijuana is punishable by a:
1. $150 fine payable by mail like an infraction for a first offense;
2. $200 to $500 fine payable by mail like an infraction for subsequent offenses (three-time violators must attend drug education, at their own expense); and
3. 60-day suspension of the driver's license or nonresident operating privileges of anyone under age 21 who is convicted of a violation (if the person does not have a license, he or she is ineligible for one for 150 days after meeting all licensing requirements)(CGS §§ 14-111e and 21a-279a).
Joint Favorable Substitute