ELLSWORTH — A former Mount Desert Island resident who attributes her criminal history to substance use disorder in the early oughts is seeking a pardon from Governor Janet Mills.
Danielle S. Wallace, who is now living in Vermont, is seeking a pardon for 14 convictions ranging from unlawful drug possession to violating conditions of her release to theft to trafficking in prison contraband, according to a legal notice of the petition printed in The Ellsworth American.
Wallace is a single mother of a young school-age daughter, which is one of her main reasons for seeking a pardon.
“It affects my ability to be a part of her school,” Wallace told Maine’s Pardon Board, which met via telephone on July 21.
Specifically, as a convicted felon, she is not able to chaperone any school trips, Wallace told The American on Tuesday.
The criminal record has also affected Wallace’s ability to obtain jobs in certain fields and to go to school for physical therapy.
“It affects every area of my life,” Wallace said. “It’s all related to something that is a disease.”
The Pardon Board consists of former Superior Court Justice John Atwood, former Hancock and Washington counties District Attorney Carletta Bassano, former Maine Assistant Attorney General John Kelly and former Maine Assistant Attorney General Fernand R. Larochelle. Tim Feeley, deputy legal counsel to Mills, was also in the hearing.
Bassano recused herself from participating in Wallace’s hearing because Bassano had prosecuted Wallace during her tenure as DA.
Incidentally, current District Attorney Matt Foster had been Wallace’s defense attorney.
Wallace, from all outward appearances, has turned her life around.
She’s now the executive director of Turning Point of Addison County in Middlebury, Vt.
Wallace has earned a bachelor’s degree in mental health and human services with an addiction focus from the University of Maine-Augusta and is working on a master’s degree in restorative justice from the Vermont Law School.
She notes that Maine had elevated her misdemeanor theft charges to felonies because there were a handful in a brief period of time.
Wallace told the board members that she “struggled significantly” with substance use disorder, including alcohol, marijuana, opiates and other medications.
“I just kept getting stuck on this cycle – getting arrested, getting out and trying to do better and relapsing,” Wallace said.
Then came Hancock County’s Drug Court and the late Superior Court Justice Kevin M. Cuddy.
“Judge Cuddy was in charge,” she said. The justice system was “no longer the enemy.”
Wallace got into school and eventually began working to help other people who were in her previous situation.
“I do take full responsibility,” Wallace said told the board. “All of these charges are my own doing.”
Among those who spoke on Wallace’s behalf was attorney James Gratton of the state of Vermont Office of the Defender General.
“She’s a very important part of our community here working with people who continue to struggle,” Gratton said. “I can’t say enough good about the work that she’s done.”
Maine’s Pardon Board listens to each petitioner and asks questions. After the hearing, the board meets in executive session and votes on whether to recommend that the governor issue a pardon.
According to the Maine Department of Corrections, that process often takes about six months.
“It’s great there is a process,” Wallace said of trying to obtain clemency. “It is a very cumbersome process. The process in Maine, too, is really expensive. Just getting my criminal record was $250.”
Petitioners also have to publish legal notices in local newspapers four times. That was going to cost $1,000 in the local daily paper, Wallace said.
While the pardon process is public, there’s a question of whether the governor’s decision to grant pardons is.
According to the Maine Criminal History Information Act, pardons are confidential information.
However, Governor Mills’ press secretary said Tuesday that the Governor has previously shared information about whom she has granted pardons.
Local defense attorney Jeffrey Toothaker said pardons are “rarely granted.”
Toothaker said the only cases he has seen pardoned have been for “business purposes.”
Domestic violence assault cases have little if any chance, the defense attorney said.
Along with that, there are certain types of crimes that the Pardon Board does not hear. That includes any convictions for driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicant.
Those seeking pardons so they can carry a firearm to hunt are not heard and neither are petitioners wanting a pardon so they can remove their names from the state’s Sex Offender Registry.