Friday, July 13, 2012

Child abuse - expungement - clear and convincing

TT v. DPW - July 13, 2012 - Commonwealth Court

Following its recent opinion in G.V. v. DPW, the court said....

Historically, in expungement proceedings, the Department has had the burden to show that the indicated report was accurate by substantial evidence. Bucks County CYS v. DPW, 616 A.2d 170 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1992). However, in the recently argued G.V. v. Department of Public Welfare, we held that the use of this standard to maintain statutorily-designated information from an indicated report on the ChildLine Registry did not adequately protect the rights of the accused and adopted the clear and convincing evidence standard for those proceedings.

Clear and convincing evidence is the highest burden in our civil law and requires that the fact-finder be able to come to clear conviction, without hesitancy, of the truth of the precise fact in issue. Suber v. Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, 885 A.2d 678, 682 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2005). To meet that standard, it necessarily means that the witnesses must be found to be credible, that the facts to which they have testified are remembered distinctly, and that their testimony is so clear, direct, weighty and convincing as to enable either a judge or jury to come to a clear conviction, without hesitancy, of the truth of the precise facts in issue. Id.

Here, an order maintaining the indicated child abuse report summary on the ChildLine Registry against T.T., a Pennsylvania public school teacher, results in a significant impact not only on his personal and professional reputation, but also on his ability to continue practicing his profession. Such an impact demonstrates the need to apply the stricter clear and convincing evidence standard in expungement proceedings.