Monday, December 28, 2009

juvenile record - expungement - 18 Pa. CS 9123 - "cause shown"

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

Appellant, A.B., appeals from the order entered in the Monroe County Court of Common Pleas, which denied his petition to expunge his juvenile record. Specifically, Appellant asks us to determine whether the court committed an error of law or an abuse of discretion when it denied Appellant’s petition, after he had fulfilled all of the requirements for expungement under 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 9123(a)(3), the Criminal History Record Information Act (“CHRIA”).

We hold the trial court misapplied the law in denying Appellant’s expungement petition, where Appellant fulfilled the requirements under Section 9123(a)(3); and the Commonwealth failed to show cause to deny expungement and retain Appellant’s juvenile record. Accordingly, we reverse and remand with directions to expunge Appellant’s juvenile recore.

The CHRIA states the court “shall” expunge a juvenile record where the petitioner meets the requirements of any subsection under Section 9123(a)(3), unless the Commonwealth successfully justifies retention of the juvenile record, otherwise stated as “except upon cause shown.” 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 9123(a)

The lower courts misconstrued the "cause shown" language by applying adult cases and criteria.

The lower court relied on a criminal drug statute, because the juvenile offense involved possession with intent to distribute. However, Appellant was not charged with,indicted for, or convicted of committing PWID or any other criminal offense. Rather, the juvenile court adjudicated Appellant delinquent on a juvenile offense. See 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6354(a)...In relying on Section 780-119(a), the Commonwealth essentially treated Appellant’s juvenile adjudication as synonymous with a criminal record, which blurred the fundamental and material differences between the Juvenile Code and the Crimes Code.

The lower courts also improperly relied on the decision in Commonwealth v. Wexler, 494 Pa. 325, 431 A.2d 877 (1981), which applied its factors test only to the adult expungement petitions before that Court, and declined to extend that analysis to the juvenile expungement petition at issue in the case.

Appellant had no record before his adjudications, he was a juvenile at the time of the offense, and subsequently he is living a law-abiding life. When Appellant filed his expungement petition, he worked a steady job, resided with his mother, and attended community college. Thus, Appellant demonstrated the conditions necessary to reasonably assure his redemption, consistent with the criteria in Section 9123(a)(3). Further, we recognize there are numerous adverse consequences inherent in the existence of a juvenile record, including the elusive stigma attached to an adjudication of delinquency, which the expungement statute sought to eliminate. Id. Appellant met the statutory requirements for expungement; he had no additional burden to show specific adverse consequences suffered before relief could be granted. Given the remedial nature of Section 9123(a), Appellant was entitled to a liberal construction and application of the statute, while the “show cause” exception to the remedial provisions should have been narrowly construed against the Commonwealth as its proponent.

Appellant was entitled to expungement of his juvenile record as a matter of law, because he met the requirements under 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 9123(a)(3). Five (5) years elapsed since his final discharge from probation, he has not been convicted of a subsequent felony, misdemeanor or adjudication of delinquency, and no proceeding is pending seeking a conviction or adjudication. Appellant maintains he finished high school, works a steady job, takes courses at a community college, and has had no further encounters with the legal system since the one in 1999. Under the statute, he was entitled to have his record expunged.