Justices reverse, remand denial of expungement petition

A trial court has been ordered to reconsider its decision to deny a man his petition for expungement of a crime he committed nearly 20 years ago after the Indiana Supreme Court found him to be eligible.

At 19 years old, Brian Allen and three other friends conspired to burglarize the home of a couple in West Harrison in southeast Indiana in 2002. The burglary resulted in homeowners Larry and Judith Pohlgeers to be hit with a lead pipe by two of the men, while Allen and another friend waited outside.

Allen pleaded guilty to Class B felony conspiracy to commit burglary and was sentenced to 16 years in prison with eight years suspended. His sentence was later modified, and after serving nearly three years in prison, Allen was placed on probation. He successfully completed probation and was eventually released in 2015, but he was denied an expungement petition in 2018.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed earlier this year, finding that the Dearborn Superior Court had improperly interpreted the Permissive Expungement Statute and, because the crime of which Allen was convicted didn’t result in serious bodily injury, the trial court improperly denied his petition for expungement.

After granting a petition to transfer, the Indiana Supreme Court in a Tuesday decision reversed and remanded upon finding that the trial court “may have denied the petition on the erroneous belief that Indiana Code section 35-38-9-4(b)(3) rendered the defendant ineligible for expungement.”

The justices first noted that although Allen was eligible for expungement, the question remained as to whether his conviction for Class B felony conspiracy to commit burglary was eligible or ineligible for expungement under the serious bodily injury exclusion. It concluded that Allen isn’t excluded from eligibility for expungement under the exclusion because he wasn’t “convicted of a felony that resulted in serious bodily injury to another person.”

“The fact that Allen was eligible for expungement doesn’t end the inquiry, however, because, unlike the Mandatory Expungement Statute at issue in (Trout v. State, 28 N.E.3d 267, 271 (Ind. Ct. App. 2015.)) the Permissive Expungement Statute vests discretion in the trial court to deny expungement,” Justice Christopher Goff wrote for the unanimous high court.

Justices next noted that although a trial court evaluating an expungement petition may consider facts incident to the conviction, the trial court here gave the justices “nothing to go on.”

“In this case, significant evidence supported Allen’s petition: testimony about his role as a committed father, husband, and provider; letters of recommendation from family, friends, and coworkers; and support from the victims themselves. The trial court, however, didn’t articulate its reasons for denying Allen’s petition for expungement. And because the trial court in this case did not articulate why it denied Allen’s petition, we’re unable to determine what consideration the court gave the evidence presented at the hearing or if it entirely failed to consider the evidence favoring expungement based on a mistaken belief that Allen was ineligible for expungement,” the high court concluded.

It therefore remanded the case to the trial court with instructions to reconsider its decision consistent with the high court’s opinion in Brian J. Allen v. State of Indiana, 20S-XP-506.

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