Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Federal Courts Lack Authority to Expunge Valid Convictions

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s decision that it lacked jurisdiction to expunge criminal convictions, pursuant to its inherent power to order equitable relief, or pursuant to the All Writs Act.

David Rowlands, a New Jersey public official, was convicted of several criminal convictions for accepting a bribe. He was sentenced to prison. Rowlands was released in 1983. In 1990, he sought reinstatement of his teaching certificate which was revoked because of the convictions. The State Board of Examiners declined to reinstate or recertify Rowlands because the convictions had not been expunged.

Rowland then sought expungement of his criminal record in federal court. The court “dismissed the petition, concluding that neither its equitable powers nor the All Writs Act” of 28 USC §1651 “provided it with jurisdiction over Rowland’s petition.”

The Third Circuit agreed, holding that it has inherent jurisdiction “over petitions for expungement only when the validity of the underlying criminal proceeding is challenged. Because Rowlands has not attacked the validity of the underlying conviction,” the court rejected his contention that it had “inherent jurisdiction over his petition for expungement.” The court also rejected Rowland’s “alternative contention that the All Writs Act, 28 USC § 1651, grants federal district courts the legal authority to expunge the record of a legal and valid criminal conviction.” The court found this argument “unavailing,” and the “All Writs Act does nothing to alter” its conclusion. See: United States v. Rowlands, 451 F.3d 173 (3rd Cir. 2006).

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

United States v. Rowlands