BENNINGTON — There’s a case making its way through the halls of the Bennington Superior Courthouse that touches on all the things that our criminal justice system is designed to accomplish.
The case hinges on what happens to people convicted of crimes who serve their time and stay out of trouble. It begs certain questions: When has someone paid enough for a crime committed long ago? What if years pass and that 17-year-old kid becomes a husband and father of young children, a productive member of society, and moves on with his life without any further trouble with the law? In essence, when do we as a society finally declare someone rehabilitated?
Kaine Maloney was 17 in the spring of 2012 when he committed an admittedly heinous crime — lewd and lascivious conduct with a child less than 16. Maloney had been charged with two other counts at the time — sexual assault with no consent and sexual assault with a victim under the age of 16. The state dismissed both of those counts when Maloney pleaded to the single lewd and lascivious charge.
He was given a four-year deferred sentence with a two-year probation period that ended in 2018. Maloney was also required to register with the Vermont sex offender registry and complete a sexual offender program through his parole.
There was a hiccup. At some point, Maloney missed a required registration by not completing one of the offender programs he was required to complete. It was a violation that converted his plea to a straight conviction. Maloney admitted the mistake and was sentenced to 2-5 years, deferred, suspended, except for six months.
Maloney completed his probation in 2018. He finished his sexual offender program successfully and has not been in trouble since, going on to get married and have children and working his way up to becoming a foreman in a New York concrete company. He stayed out of trouble.
Three months ago, Maloney applied and was accepted by a New Hampshire concrete company to work on a six-year contract at the U.S. Naval Port outside Kittery, Maine. After a federal background check, Maloney was, because of his conviction, barred from the naval base.
He filed a motion with the court for an expungement, a legal term where, in certain cases, the official legal record of a person’s criminal history would be destroyed, allowing the individual to move on without fear of a criminal record following them forever.
Friday morning, Maloney’s motion was finally heard.
“I made a big mistake,” Maloney told Judge Kerry McDonald-Cady. “I’ve accepted responsibility and want to better my and my family’s lives. I just want to move forward. That place in Maine, it’s an opportunity to move forward. We vacation there. The kids love it there. It’s my hope to move the family and work there. I was 17.”
Maloney, now 28, listened as the state, represented by Alexander Burke, opposed the expungements on the grounds that the charge of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child, the count he pleaded guilty to, was not eligible for expungement. He went on to oppose expungement in the other two dismissed charges on the grounds that Maloney violated his parole back in 2015 by missing registering and not completing his required program.
After careful consideration, McDonald-Cady asked the open courtroom whether granting Maloney expungement would serve the interest of justice after all this time.
“That’s not defined in Vermont law,” the judge said. “It’s up to the discretion of the court to decide.”
After listing the requirements of a possible expungement, she then said, “This court does not see Mr. Maloney discounting his responsibility in this case. He has served his time and, after the violation in 2015, completed his parole and programs successfully. Mr. Maloney is a productive member of society, with job opportunities and a family. It does serve the interest of justice in this case.”
She then expunged both dismissed counts.
The situation was a little more complicated as to the first count, to which Maloney pleaded guilty.
“As to count one,” she said, “I cannot expunge that count because it does not qualify for expungement under our law. However, I can decide if that count can be sealed.”
As opposed to expungement, sealing a case leaves a criminal record intact but seals it from view. Expungement, on the other hand, wipes the slate clean as if it never happened.
According to the ACLU, employment opportunities for people convicted of a crime are extremely limited. Most states allow employers to deny jobs to anyone with a criminal record, regardless of how much time has passed or the individual’s work history or personal circumstances.
The consequences of a criminal conviction are far-reaching and pose barriers to reentry long after a prison term has been served. The ACLU reports that many are being denied jobs or housing because of past criminal records, even when those people have completely reformed their lives.
That’s a future Maloney hopes to avoid. The motion for sealing the last charge is currently under advisement with the judge.