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Expungement lies within the equitable discretion of the court. District courts in this and certain other circuits have ancillary jurisdiction over applications for orders expunging convictions. A request for expungement is usually is granted only in extreme circumstances after examining it individually on its merits to determine the proper balancing of the equities. Specifically, the government's need to maintain arrest records must be balanced against the harm that the records can cause citizens.
Petitioner Jane Doe participated in one of the automobile insurance fraud schemes. The phony treatment files generated by the clinics for each of the uninjured passengers would sometimes become the basis of particularly audacious personal injury lawsuits. Specifically, the passengers would be referred to lawyers who would bring suits on their behalf against the innocent drivers of the other cars. Of course, those suits were entirely meritless, but they could be settled for their nuisance value. When petitioner agreed to be involved in one of these staged accidents. She was one of the passengers in the backseat. She falsely claimed that she was injured, assigned her no-fault insurance claim to a clinic, and represented that she had received medical services related to her fabricated injury. A civil claim was filed on her behalf, which was settled, and she received a certain amount. In 2001, petitioner was found guilty after a jury trial of violating 18 U.S.C. § 1347 based on her role in the scheme. She was sentenced to five years' probation, ten months of home detention, and a restitution order. Petitioner had no prior criminal history, and she has not had any contact with the criminal justice system since her conviction. Years later, petitioner filed an application to expunge her thirteen-year-old fraud conviction because of the undue hardship it has created for her in getting and especially keeping jobs.
Should petitioner’s application to expunge her conviction be granted?
The court held that the seemingly automatic refusals by judges to expunge convictions when the inability to find employment was the only ground for the application, had undervalued the critical role employment played in re-entry. They were also increasingly out of step with public opinion. The court ruled that the so-called ban the box practice, in which job applications no longer ask the applicant whether he or she has been convicted of a crime, became more prevalent. Thus, there was an increasing awareness that continuing to marginalize people like petitioner did much more harm than good to the communities. The court concluded that the public's interest in petitioner being an employed, a contributing member of society, so far outweighs its interest in her conviction being a matter of public record. Accordingly, her application for an order expunging her conviction was granted. The court hereby ordered that the government's arrest and conviction records, and any other documents relating to this case, be placed in a separate storage facility, also, any electronic copies of these records or documents and references to them be deleted from the government's databases, electronic filing systems, and public record. Moreover, petitioner’s real name was to be removed from any official index or public record. Furthermore, said records were not to be opened other than in the course of a bona fide criminal investigation by law enforcement authorities and only when necessary for such an investigation. The court clarified that the government and any of its agents may not use these records for any other purpose, nor may their contents be disseminated to anyone, public or private, for any other purpose.