Bronx Dad's Citizenship Dreams Back on Track After Bronx DA Vacates 1993 Weed Conviction

PHOTO: James Keivom | New York Daily News

Bronx Dad's Citizenship Dreams Back on Track After Bronx DA Vacates 1993 Weed Conviction | NY Daily News

January 7th, 2019

By Stephen Rex Brown

A Bronx dad living in fear of deportation has hope he'll finally get a green card now that Bronx prosecutors have vacated his 25-year-old weed conviction.

In October, the Jamaican immigrant, whom the Daily News is identifying only by his first name, Howard, went before a judge and had the conviction expunged following an inquiry by the office of Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark.

"It's a relief, not having that hanging over your head," Howard, 48, told The News. "I'm grateful. I think they did a good thing."

He was allowed to re-plead to a violation of disorderly conduct, which was then sealed and does not appear on his record.

The News detailed the devastating impact of Howard's low-level reefer possession case in an article last summer.

His previous application for a green card through his U.S.-citizen wife was denied in December 2017 on the basis of his marijuana case.

But with the conviction now off his record, Howard has reapplied.

"It would be a life-changer — like a whole new beginning," Howard said of a green card.

"It'd be like reset, everything that went wrong. A fresh start. Basically I can start anew. Dreams that were deferred, maybe I could put them back on track."

Howard's case was one of 36 last year in which Clark agreed to let the offender re-plead to an alternative crime due to an immigration issue. In 2017, Clark's office agreed to 23 such cases.

Howard "was convicted of low-level marijuana possession in 1993, during a time of stop-and-frisk measures that swept inordinate numbers of people into the criminal justice system for minor crimes. Twenty-five years later, this infraction came back to haunt him," a spokeswoman for the Bronx DA said.

"We agreed to vacate that conviction and let him re-plead to a violation so that he would no longer have a crime on his record that may subject him to deportation. In this particular circumstance we felt it was in the interest of justice that he not keep paying for a mistake he made so long ago."

Howard became undocumented after overstaying his visa in 1992. He pleaded guilty to the pot charge in 1993 just to get out of jail, he said, insisting he hadn't actually been in possession of marijuana.

"Since then I've tried to lead a good life," said Howard, who works for a moving company and has four kids, ages 18 to 24. His wife has multiple sclerosis.

Howard's attorney at the Legal Aid Society, Casey Dalporto, said he more than deserves the second chance.

"I can't think of a more exemplary member of society, not withstanding whatever he may have done back in 1993 when he was a kid," Dalporto said.

"He is an amazing father, hard worker. He's smart, he's a devoted husband. We should be so lucky as to have him be a lawful immigrant."

Howard mostly wanted to praise his attorney rather than discuss his big break.

"Somebody actually listened," he said. "She believed more in me than . . . I believed in myself."