In a gratifying victory today, a judge in Prince George’s Maryland ruled in favor of Paul’s client, holding that a prior “civil” marijuana citation from New York state is not a prior “criminal conviction” in Maryland.
Paul’s client wanted to keep his record clean for future employment purposes, by agreeing to a PBJ – Probation Before Judgment – in his possession of marijuana case. PBJ is an important option for 1st-time offenders in Maryland, because with PBJ, the arrest record and conviction can be expunged.
New York (along with 12 other states) has reclassified possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana as a “civil” violation, not a “criminal conviction.” Too bad the federal NCIC crime database doesn’t recognize this important distinction. The State’s Attorney tried to deny 1st-time offender treatment to Paul’s client based on an NCIC computer printout showing a prior “conviction” from New York.
Paul requested a two week adjournment, then hired a private investigator to track down the client’s old court jacket from a dusty, closed-file room in up-state New York. Sure enough, the New York “conviction” turned out to be a “civil” judgment, and not a criminal conviction.
Armed with a certified docket entry from New York state, Paul convinced the judge that a civil citation doesn’t count as a prior criminal record. Over the State’s Attorney’s objection, the judge awarded Paul’s client a PBJ.
Sadly, in 37 states and the District of Columbia, possession of personal use quantities of marijuana is still a criminal offense.
Bravo to New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island for leading the change from criminal to civil classification for small amounts of pot. Too many young people are denied employment, student loans, or an opportunity to join the military because of a prior criminal conviction for possession of marijuana.
When prior “convictions” originate from a state where marijuana has been decriminalized, a careful review of the actual prior judgment (not the NCIC printout) is required.