Tuesday, September 03, 2013

criminal convictions - expungement - burden of proof

Commonwealth v. Trimble – Superior Court – Sept. 3, 2013


In this case, the Commonwealth undeniably failed to meet its burden where elected not to oppose, in any way, Appellant’s petition. Thus, the trial court abused its discretion in finding that, “when balancing [Appellant’s] right to be free from the harm attendant to maintenance of the arrest record against the Commonwealth’s interest in preserving such records, in this particular case, greater weight must be afforded to the Commonwealth’s  interest in preserving such records,”where the Commonwealth simply did not advance an interest in preserving Appellant’s records. Accordingly, we reverse the order denying Appellant’s petition.

The Superior Court has required the trial court to "balance the individual's right to be free from the harm attendant to maintenance of the arrest record against the Commonwealth's interest in preserving such records." Commonwealth v. Wexler, 494 Pa. 325, 431 A.2d 877, 879 (Pa. 1981).

The mere assertion by the Commonwealth of a general interest in maintaining accurate records of those accused of a crime does not outweigh an individual's specific, substantial interest in clearing his or her record. Id. at 881-82. In addition, Wexler explicitly placed the burden of proof on the Commonwealth.

In general terms, we held that when the Commonwealth admits that it is unable to bear its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt at trial, then "the Commonwealth must bear the burden of justifying why the arrest record should not be expunged." Id. at 880. Commonwealth v. Moto, 23 A.3d 989, 993-94 (Pa. 2011) (emphasis added).

 

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