Wednesday, December 31, 2014

District Court Lacks Equitable Authority to Expunge "Valid" Convictions

Tokoph v. U.S., 2014 WL 7273030 (12/23/14) (N.M.) (Published) - The 10th holds that a federal court does not have inherent equitable authority to grant expungement of a valid conviction. The 10th follows U.S. v. Pinto, 1 F.3d 1069 (10th Cir. 1993), which indicated a federal court may grant expungement of an invalid conviction that for example was "unconstitutional, illegal or obtained through government misconduct. Mr. Tokoph's was a valid conviction for fraud in 1972 and so not eligible for equitable expunction. The 10th held the Federal Youth Corrections Act (FYCA), which was repealed in 1984, did not authorize expungement either. It provided for an automatic "set aside" of a conviction when the offender had successfully completed probation. The 10th feels obligated to follow U.S. v. Wacker, 72 F.3d 1453 (10th Cir. 1995), in which it held an FYCA set-aside was not the equivalent of an expungement under the Guidelines for criminal history purposes. Congress's use of the term "set aside" rather than "expunge" indicates Congress did not authorize expungement, the 10th reasons. In the course of reaching its conclusion, the 10th discusses when it must follow Supreme Court dicta. Mr. Tokoph cited statements in two S. Ct. cases that indicated the FYCA provided for expunction. The 10th has often said it is bound by Supreme Court dicta almost as firmly as the Court's outright holdings. But the indications in the S. Ct. cases in this case were not the sort of considered dicta the 10th finds compelling. At least the dicta was not powerful enough to overcome what the 10th considered direct controlling 10th precedent.