NY Judge Rapped for Expunging Conviction

     (CN) — Precedent that lets federal courts expunge arrest records cannot be used to expunge the fraud conviction of a woman now unable to find work, the Second Circuit ruled Thursday.
     Protecting the woman’s identity, the federal appeals court refers to the woman as Jane Doe in its ruling. A single mother with no prior criminal history, Doe was convicted in Brooklyn and sentenced to probation for defrauding a health care benefit program.
     She worked as a home health aide but struggled to pay her rent and so joined an automobile insurance fraud scheme in 1997.
     After posing as a passenger in a staged car collision, and feigning an injury, Doe recovered $2,500 from a civil claim related to the accident.
     In 2014, six years after completing her probation, Doe moved to expunge all record of her conviction because it kept her from holding down work.
     Though a federal judge in Brooklyn agreed, the Second Circuit found Thursday that such relief is not possible under the 1977 decision United States v. Schnitzer.
     Saying that Schnitzer applies only to arrest records, the court vacated the judgment.
     In granting Doe’s request, the lower court had found the consequences of her conviction too “extreme.”
     “Few things could be more essential to ‘the conduct of federal-court business’ than the appropriateness of expunging the public records that business creates,” the court ruled last year.
     The Second Circuit conceded that there are rules of criminal procedure that provide limited jurisdiction over certain post-judgment motions.
     “None remotely suggests, however, that district courts retain jurisdiction over any type of motion years after a criminal case has concluded,” U.S. Circuit Judge Rosemary Pooler wrote for a three-person panel (emphasis in original).
     Judges Debra Livingston and Raymond Lohier joined in rejecting Doe’s argument.
     “The District Court’s sentence had long ago concluded and its decrees long since expired by the time Doe filed her motion,” Pooler wrote. “Under those circumstances, expunging a record of conviction on equitable grounds is entirely unnecessary,” the panel added.
     Pooler said the relief Doe seeks can come only from Congress, not the courts.
     “Only a few months ago (while this appeal was pending), the attorney general of the United States recognized and aptly described the unfortunate lifelong toll that these convictions often impose on low-level criminal offenders,” Pooler wrote (parentheses in original).
     The 19-page ruling closes with a quotation from Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s remarks as part of National Re-Entry Week in April.
     “Too often, the way that our society treats Americans who have come into contact with the criminal justice system … turns too many terms of incarceration into what is effectively a life sentence,” Lynch had said.

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