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Two convictions sealed in Saratoga County Court under drug law reform

Two convictions sealed in Saratoga County Court under drug law reform

Two men have had felony drug convictions sealed in the first such cases in Saratoga County Court

Two men have had felony drug convictions sealed in the first such cases in Saratoga County Court under the Rockerfeller drug law reform signed into law last year, according to court officials.

A third man will be released from prison early as a result of the new law, which already has been implemented in other courts across the state.

All three men were convicted of nonviolent felony drug charges in 2003, and Saratoga County Court Judge Jerry Scarano noted each had completed drug treatment and other programs, had tested drug-free for a number of years and said they were looking to live clean, productive lives.

Before the Rockefeller drug law reforms went into effect last June, only juvenile defendants could request that a judge seal a criminal record.

Saratoga County District Attorney James Murphy III said his office will carefully review each request that is made to have adult records sealed.

“This is a conditional seal, which allows a defendant to put the felony behind him or her while they apply for jobs and otherwise become productive members of society,” he said. “If they should get arrested again, the new charge would be lodged and the seal would come off. The hope is they wouldn’t get arrested again.”

The first case that was sealed was for Daniel Ruggeri, 33, who pleaded guilty to criminal possession of marijuana in July 2003 and was sentenced to attend Drug Treatment Court and probation.

The court-ordered treatment program targets low-level offenders whose crimes were motivated by their drug or alcohol addiction. Offenders are monitored closely as they receive treatment and counseling while undergoing frequent and random drug testing. There are varying penalties for setbacks.

Ruggeri said he completed the program, moved to Fulton County and was given an early release from probation for good behavior.

He said he is currently working as a bartender, but he hopes to improve his employment and is interested in applying for teaching jobs.

Assistant District Attorney Daniel Kopach argued against sealing the file that would allow Ruggeri to legally say he had no felony record.

“I think there is a danger in not letting an employer make a rational decision with full knowledge [of the drug conviction],” Kopach said.

Public Defender Van Zwisohn said the defendant had done everything he had been asked to do by the court.

“He’s been employed and he wants the opportunity to improve his employment,” Zwisohn said.

The judge agreed to seal the conviction.

The second case involved Gavin L. Dickinson, 30, formerly of Ballston and now of Wyoming. He was convicted of a felony drug charge in 2003, but recently wrote to the judge that he is employed, married and a father. He requested his case be sealed.

Kopach said Dickinson had completed Drug Treatment Court in April 2004 and had no further arrests.

He said Dickinson was arrested after he was treated at Saratoga Hospital’s emergency room for a cocaine overdose, and it was the drug amount in his bloodstream that resulted in his arrest.

Kopach said he did not object to the case being sealed.

Scarano said Dickinson was the first graduate of Saratoga County’s Drug Treatment Court and his work in the program was “exemplary.” He agreed to seal the file.

Drug Treatment Court Director Rebecca Dixon said 88 people have successfully graduated from the program. Another 48 were dismissed before completion and 46 people are currently in the treatment court.

“For a lot of our graduates, finding a job would be easier if the felony convictions could be sealed,” she said.

The final court case Tuesday involving the new drug legislation was for Ronald Oudekerk, 44, who has been in prison since 2003 after police arrested him for carrying a large amount of cocaine from New York City to Wilton with the intent to sell it.

Murphy said there had been one previous case in county court that resulted in a reduction in a prison sentence.

Oudekerk was originally sentenced to 61⁄2 to 13 years in prison for criminal possession of a controlled substance. It was his second felony drug conviction.

Oudekerk said he was denied parole last year and would not be eligible to petition for release again until next year with his earliest possible release being in November 2011.

He told Scarano he had completed every rehabilitation program available in prison and had completed his GED while behind bars.

Assistant District Attorney Jesse Ashdown objected to Oudekerk’s sentence being reduced, he said, because of the quantity of cocaine Oudekerk had when he was arrested.

“He had 89 grams of cocaine, a quantity that suggests his intent to distribute,” Ashdown said.

The judge agreed to reduce the sentence to 8 years.

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