Judge: Federal courts lack general expungement power

August 14, 2017

A woman who twice petitioned to have a federal theft of bank funds conviction expunged lost in her second bid, and the judge denying the motion said district courts lack such authority.

Palivia Gwendella Lewis pleaded guilty in 1995 and was sentenced to three years of probation and ordered to make restitution in the amount of $16,500. She unsuccessfully moved to expunge the conviction in 2014 and again this month.

Judge James T. Moody of the District Court for the Northern District of Indiana wrote that the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals previously gave district courts jurisdiction to expunge records under United States v. Flowers, 389 F.3d 737, 739 (7th Cir. 2004) and United States v. Janik, 10 F.3d 470, 472 (7th Cir. 1993).

“However, the Seventh Circuit has since held that in light of the United States Supreme Court decision in Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of America, 511 U.S. 375 (1994), both ‘Flowers and Janik are overruled.’” Moody wrote, citing United States v. Wahi, 850 F.3d 296, 303 (7th Cir. 2017).

“While certain statutes give the court expungement authority — see e.g., 18 U.S.C. § 3607(c) (permitting expungement motions in certain drug-possession cases) — a district court’s ‘ancillary jurisdiction does not include a general equitable power to expunge judicial records in a criminal case,’” under Wahi, Moody concluded.

The case is United States of America v. Palivia Gwendella Lewis, 2:94-cr-50.


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