Minor drug offences can now be expunged, Minister
People convicted of minor drug offences can now have their convictions expunged, the Attorney-General said yesterday.
But Kathy Lynn Simmons warned that offenders who had their convictions erased may still be blocked from entering the US.
Ms Simmons said that expungement laws passed last year were now in force after an online application process was launched yesterday.
An expungement order would erase criminal conviction records for the offence of simple possession of cannabis of seven grams or less, for offences committed before December 20, 2017, when possession of that amount was decriminalised.
Ms Simmons said: “By allowing expungement of criminal records … the Government has ensured that persons formerly convicted are not excluded from the social justice reforms that are being instituted.
“This therefore, is the latest development in our Government’s commitment to meaningful cannabis reform, to stop an historical trend that has disproportionately impacted our Black male population.”
Ms Simmons added: “Where an expungement order is granted by the minister, the person to whom the order relates will be treated as not having committed the offence, been charged with or prosecuted for the offence, been convicted of the offence, or been sentenced for the offence.
“The effect of this process is that the relevant offence is completely erased for all material purposes under Bermuda law.”
But Ms Simmons said the change in Bermuda law may no lead to removal from the US Immigration stop list.
She added: “This question cannot be answered definitively as US immigration policy is entirely of its own making and operates independent of other countries’ laws.
“Canadians, for example, are faced with a similar challenge to Bermuda.
“The Government of Canada has similar issues, in that the United States continues to refuse to accept some Canadians for entry into the US, even after they have received pardons for prior convictions.”
Ms Simmons said the Government was in discussions with the US Consul General over the problem and that the relaxation of cannabis laws in some US states gave “some optimism”.
She added: “Expungement offers the best opportunity for overcoming the stop list hurdle in the future,.”
Ms Simmons said the reason for the legislation was to “minimise the legacy effects of discriminatory, racialised and unjust criminal sanctions which continue to hamper those formerly convicted persons from gaining equal treatment in the areas of employment, housing and other legal ramifications”.
She added: “By taking the steps to apply for an expungement order, we anticipate that affected persons will feel empowered with a sense of renewed dignity, hope and promise for fuller participation in all facets of society.
“Additionally, we challenge entities and individuals to respect the right for these past convictions to be forgotten and to continue to interrogate and unlearn our previous biases, prejudices and stigmas of persons formerly convicted of minor cannabis offences, to truly exemplify the restoration of justice and the grace of our shared humanity.”
The change will also allow people to apply to wipe the records of family members who died before the legislation came into force.
Hard copy forms can also be collected from the Ministry of Legal Affairs.
Once a completed application is returned, it will be vetted to ensure all the information needed is there.
Ms Simmons warned that an application could take weeks to process because “some forensic review of the records is required, which is laborious and may add additional time to the process”.
She added that “severe criminal penalties” could be imposed on anyone who makes an unauthorised disclosure of an expunged conviction
To apply for an expungement, visit forms.gov.bm.