Civil Rights Organization Files Lawsuit Against State to Expunge Conviction

October 13, 2023

A prominent civil rights organization recently filed a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court. The organization believed that the Delaware County Office of Judicial Support would not expunge a criminal record of one of its clients due to unpaid court costs. This concern happened despite a court order that required the criminal record expungement.

How It Started

In 2019, Governor Tom Wolf granted a full pardon to the client of the civil rights organization for a marijuana conviction. The pardon came as part of the Pennsylvania Marijuana Pardon Project. Before the project, the client struggled to acquire employment and housing due to his conviction; expunging these records would have helped. 

In Pennsylvania, anyone granted a pardon has an automatic right to an expungement. This right had a Delaware County Court of Common Pleas judge order an expungement for the client’s marijuana conviction. However, the client failed to pay $897.75 in court fees.

The Effect

This failure led to the Delaware County Office of Judicial Support’s refusal to expunge the record. However, this refusal defied the judge’s order and the President Judge of Delaware County’s previous instruction to process these expungements. Disregarding orders from the judge and president violated the Criminal History Record Information Act.

The senior staff attorney for the civil rights organization stated that the Office of Judicial Support has illegally refused to expunge the records. They claimed the refusal happened because of unpaid court costs at least twice. In addition, they reminded the court about Governor Wolf’s pardon and the judge’s order to expunge the conviction. As such, the court should have destroyed this criminal record. The attorney further claimed the court costs should not exempt the expungement. 

According to the attorney, the clerk’s refusal to expunge the conviction due to unpaid court costs created a two-tiered justice system. This two-tiered system is also considered illegal by the attorney. The lawsuit requests that the Commonwealth Court order the Delaware County Office of Judicial Support and the head clerk to comply with the court order to expunge their client’s conviction. They also ask for damages, costs, and attorney’s fees.

This case shows the importance of complying with expungement laws. Laws like “Ban the Box” that seal or expunge criminal records have become more prevalent in many states and municipalities. As popularity grows, employers must frequently review local and state laws to ensure compliance. One way to succeed is by working with a trustworthy background check company. The right partner stays updated and delivers accurate and timely reports.

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