Sammons v. Pa. State Police
Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
August 9, 2007
Holding: When an order of expungement has been granted, administrative agencies, such as the Pennsylvania State Police, are bound to expunge the petitioner’s arrest records.
Why This Case is Important: Pursuant to18 Pa. C.S. § 9122(b) of Pennsylvania’s expungement statute, a petitioner who has reached the age of 70 and has been free of arrest or prosecution for ten years following final release may be granted an order expunging his or her arrest records. An order for expungement may be granted even if the petitioner was convicted of the offense the petitioner wants expunged.
A principal issue in this case was whether the legislature intended to give power to the courts to expunge records pursuant to section 9122(b). The petitioner’s request to expunge his records under the statute was opposed by the Pennsylvania State Police on the grounds that section 9122(b) was merely a housekeeping section and was not meant to bestow the authority to expunge records. The State Police was essentially arguing that section 9122(b) did not actually bestow the power of expungement upon the courts because of Pennsylvania’s stance on not expunging arrest records of convicted defendants.
The court disagreed with the State Police’s argument and determined that section 9122(B) was not merely a housekeeping section. The court analyzed section 9122 as a whole and case law directly on point with the issue and concluded that section 9122(b) gave the court the authority to expunge records for a petitioner who has reached the age of 70.
Because it was proper for the court to order expungement, the Pennsylvania State Police had a duty to comply with the granted order. The state police therefore had the duty to destroy all criminal records, fingerprints, photographic plates, and photographs pertaining to the petitioner’s arrest. It is important to note that courts have held in other cases that other administrative agencies, such as the Department of Corrections or the Department of Transportation, would also be bound by an expungement order entered by a court of common pleas.
Facts of This Case: In 1956, the petitioner in this case was arrested for misdemeanor aggravated assault and battery and misdemeanor assault and battery. In 1957, the petitioner was convicted of these charges. In 2006, after turning 70 years old, the petitioner applied to expunge his criminal records pursuant to section 9122(b) of Pennsylvania’s expungement statute. The court granted the order.
The Pennsylvania State Police appealed the order granting expungement. The State Police argued that there was a statutory mandate to maintain records of convicted persons and that it was their policy not to expunge a person’s conviction records until he reached the age of 90. Furthermore, the state police argued that section 9122(b) did not give the courts the authority to expunge criminal records.
The court disagreed with the State Police. The court determined that section 9122(b) was not merely a housekeeping section. The court stated the Pennsylvania State Police had no authority for its interpretation of 9122(b) and that there was no evidence that section 9122(b) did not intend to grant courts the power of expungement. The court therefore concluded that section 9122(b) gave authority to expunge records when a person has reached the age of 70 and has not been arrested or prosecuted for ten years after final release.
Because section 9122(b) authorized expungement of records, the court determined that the Pennsylvania State Police had a duty to comply with the granted order of expungement. The court therefore overruled the State Police’s preliminary objections and granted an order in favor of the petitioner.
Key Language: Section 9122(b)(1) provides that criminal history record information may be expunged when a person reaches 70 years old and has not been arrested or prosecuted for ten years after final release from confinement or supervision.
In both Commonwealth v. Whitford and Commonwealth v. Wolf, the Superior Court implicitly recognized that a trial court could expunge conviction records if the requirements of section 9122(b) are met. We agree [the court agrees] and now hold, that common pleas has such jurisdiction.
Expert Advise: “This case establishes that an order of expungement cannot be ignored. If a petitioner is granted expungement, state agencies have a duty to abide by the order. As such, state agencies must destroy all records pertaining to the petitioner’s arrest.” -Attorney Mathew Higbee.
To read about more cases that help to define record clearing relief laws click here.
Find more legal articles in our articles database.