New York Federal Criminal Practice Blog
October 13, 2007

District Court May Have Power Under its Ancillary Jurisdiction to Expunge Federal Conviction

Reinvention is an American right, but expungement of the past is usually not, especially not in the federal criminal law context. Or maybe not. Enter SDNY Judge Kaplan, who ruled three days ago in United States v. Woods, 2007 WL 2948159 (S.D.N.Y. October 10, 2007), that a district court may well have authority under it ancillary jurisdiction to expunge federal criminal convictions.  As he points out, in United States v. Schnitzer, 567 F.2d 536, 539 (2d Cir.1977), “the Court of Appeals held that district courts have jurisdiction even after the termination of criminal proceedings to entertain motions to expunge a defendant's arrest record, a holding that arguably implies the existence of ancillary jurisdiction to grant the relief sought here in an appropriate case.”  He further notes that while Schnitzer has been questioned, it has never been overruled.

If such authority exists, Judge Kaplan declined to exercise it in Ms.Woods’ case. While she has admirably put her criminal past – a conviction for importation of cocaine for which she served a period of time in prison – behind her by working in the security industry and studying to become a nursing assistant, “the shadow” her criminal record has cast upon her life is not unusual. “The inescapable fact is that defendant committed a serious crime, one of the consequences of which is precisely that of which she complains.” The judge is correct that Ms. Woods’ case is not unusual – there are hundreds of thousands in her position, and it is not for the courts to develop a mechanism that forgives the transgressions of all these people and rewards their rehabilitation by wiping that slate clean – but it is very heartening that he holds out the possibility that a court may expunge a conviction in an unusual case.

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