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Why You May Not Be Able to Expunge Your Juvenile Record in Pennsylvania

In the Interest of A.B.
Superior Court of Pennsylvania
December 24, 2009

Holding: A petitioner who meets the requirements of 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 9123 is entitled to expungement of his or her juvenile records, and only a specific reason set forth by the Commonwealth showing that the petitioner’s records should be kept will prevent the expungement from being granted.

Why This Case is Important: In Pennsylvania, juvenile proceedings are different from criminal proceedings in procedures, purpose and rules. The proceedings and rules are dissimilar because juveniles are not convicted of crimes. Pursuant to the juvenile act, if a charge is established, the juvenile is adjudicated delinquent. Being adjudicated delinquent is not the same as being convicted of a criminal offense. Indeed, there is no parallel between a juvenile offense and criminal offense because of the material difference between the Juvenile Code and the Crimes code.

The purpose of having such procedural differences is Pennsylvania Legislature’s intent to rehabilitate juvenile delinquents. Pennsylvania Legislature has recognized the importance of rehabilitation, especially in the youth of the state. The Legislature also recognized the great stigma of having a conviction or adjudication of delinquency on ones record. The stigma of a criminal or juvenile record serves to impede professional and personal development. As such, because the emphasis is on rehabilitating and developing the youth rather than punishing them, the purpose of the Juvenile Code is much different from the Crimes Code.

These differences are relevant when considering juvenile expungement law. In 1980, Pennsylvania enacted the Criminal History Record Information Act [CHRIA]. 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 9123 of CHRIA serves to provide juveniles who have been adjudicated delinquent an opportunity to expunge their juvenile records. The statute states the court shall expunge a juvenile record if the requirements of section 9123 are met, unless the Commonwealth shows cause for retaining the records.

The word “shall” has been interpreted by the courts to mean that a mandatory order of expungement should be granted. Therefore, if the petitioner meets the requirement of the statute, the court must grant the order of expungement. If the statutory requirements are met, only a specific showing of “cause” by the Commonwealth will prevent an order from being granted. In other words, once the petitioner meets the statutory requirements, the burden to prevent expungement weighs entirely on the Commonwealth.

Because expungement is mandatory, if the statutory requirements are met, the court need not balance factors, such as the ones outlined in the Wexler case, to expunge a juvenile record. Indeed, as this case points out, it is improper to consider the Wexler factors because of the differences between juvenile and criminal records. Wexler applied a factor driven test to determine whether an adult expungement should be granted. It did not extend the test to juvenile records. Thus, reliance on the Wexler factors for adult expungements are misplaced when expunging juvenile records. As such, the sole authority the court should rely on is contained in section 9123.

It is also important to note the court’s treatment in this case of the differences between being adjudicated delinquent and being convicted of a crime. The petitioner in this case was adjudicated delinquent of possession with intent to distribute. The Commonwealth argued that expungement should not be granted because criminal code 25 P.S. § 780-119(a) stated that crimes for persons indicted with possession with intent to distribute could not be expunged. The court in this case limited the rule of section 780-119(a) to criminal offenses. As mentioned above, juvenile proceedings and being adjudicated delinquent is fundamentally different from being convicted of a crime. Because of this fundamental difference, expungement of the petitioner’s juvenile records was proper, regardless of the prohibition in section 780-119(a).

Facts of This Case: In 1999, the petitioner, as a juvenile, made an admission to one count of Possession with Intent to Deliver a Controlled Substance. He was placed with Youth Services and placed on probation for a period of six months. In 2006, the petitioner filed to expunged his records. The court entered an order denying the petitioner’s request.

The Superior Court reversed the trial court’s decision. The court held that pursuant to 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 9123, a petitioner shall be granted expungement if he or she met the requirements of the statute. The petitioner in this case alleged that he met the requirements of section 9123(a)(3), because five years elapsed since his final discharge from probation, he had not been convicted of a subsequent felony, misdemeanor or adjudication of delinquency, and no proceeding was pending seeking a conviction or adjudication. Furthermore, the petitioner presented evidence that he was leading a law-abiding life, and wanted to expunge his records to continue his personal and professional development.

The court held that because the petitioner had established the statutory requirements, it was mandatory for the court to grant expungement unless cause was shown to retain the records. The court stated that a specific legal theory was required to show cause, and that a generic argument, such as the nature of the crime and petitioner’s age at the time was committed, was not sufficient to show cause.

Because the petitioner established the statutory requirements, and because the Commonwealth failed to show cause for retaining the records, the Superior Court held that it was improper to deny the petitioner’s expungement application. It thereby ordered the petitioner’s records expunged.

Key Language: Thus, we now hold if a juvenile petitioner satisfied the statutory requirements of Section 9123(a), the record must be expunged, unless the Commonwealth can show specific reasons to justify retention of that particular record.

Expert Advise: “This case clearly establishes Pennsylvania’s emphasis on rehabilitation. The case thoroughly goes over the intent and purpose of the Juvenile Act, and clearly explains the differences between the juvenile code and criminal code. Most importantly, it establishes that juvenile expungements are not discretionary, but mandatory. As such, a petitioner that meets the requirements of section 9123(a) must have their records expunged, unless a specific showing for cause proves otherwise.” -Attorney Mathew.

To read about more cases that help to define record clearing relief laws click here.

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