Saturday, March 16, 2002

expunged, not sponged
A recent court case highlights a problem with the drafting of a statute. The Delaware Supreme Court overturned a Superior Court decision which had incorrectly denied the request to expunge a criminal record.

In the case of Ryan v. State of Delaware, a young fellow who had pled guilty to a minor offense in Newark had filed to have his record expunged in accordance with 11 Del.C. 4372(a)2. He had been given "Probation before Judgment" (PBJ) in Alderman's Court according to 11 Del.C. 4218 and he had successfully completed the terms of his probation. In exchange, the Alderman dismissed the charge against Ryan so that he could have his record expunged.

The problem is that to be eligible for probation before judgment, according to the PBJ statute, one must not have participated in that program within the last five years. Well, if you shred his record (via expungment) how will the Court or the Attorney General know if he is eligible the next time around? The State wanted to delay all such expungings for 5 years to allow the records to be compiled and checked.

Truth be told, the Attorney General's Office would probably be happy to do away with expungements all together. But the Supreme Court ruled that the expungement statute is clear, and that if a case is dismissed by PBJ or any other method it is eligible for consideration under the normal expungement process and is not burdened by the record keeping dilemma created by the poorly written PBJ statute.

Wouldn't it have been a good idea to have used a pseudonym for this poor fellow, instead of publishing his name in the Supreme Court opinion? Especially since the opinion was laying the groundwork to have his records shredded and all indicia of his arrest eliminated. I guess he won. But did he?

So remember expunge early and often. Keep your record clean. You might even try not getting in trouble in the first place, if nothing else works.

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