In Doe v. United States, 15 MC 1174 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 7, 2016), District Judge John Gleeson considered a nurse’s motion to expunge her thirteen-year-old conviction for participation in an insurance fraud scheme because of its adverse impact on her ability to find professional employment. Contrary to the government’s position, the court found that it had jurisdiction to hear the motion, because “controlling Second Circuit precedent establishes that ‘expungement [of convictions] lies within the equitable discretion of the [district] court.'” Slip op. 17 (quoting U.S. v. Schnitzer, 567 F.2d 536, 539 (1977)).
Reviewing the applicant’s history, the court noted that, “[i]n the 12 years since she reentered society after serving her prison sentence, she has not been convicted of any other wrongdoing” and “has worked diligently to obtain stable employment.” Slip op. 2. Following an examination of numerous documents on the applicant’s character and competence, Judge Gleeson concluded that “there is no relationship between Doe’s conviction and her fitness to be a nurse.” Slip op. 23. However, he still denied the motion for expungement, finding that the Schnitzer standard “unfortunately does not permit [him] to grant it.” Slip op. 21. Specifically, according to the Second Circuit, expungement “should be reserved for the unusual or extreme case,” which this was not. Slip op. 23 (quoting Schnitzer, 567 F.2d at 539).
Nevertheless, the applicant was not left without relief: the court issued her a “certificate of rehabilitation.” Despite the absence of a federal statute directly governing the issuance of such a certificate, Judge Gleeson noted that such certificates exist in some states including New York and that “[t]he federal system already contemplates certificates of rehabilitation” as they are referenced in the Federal Rules of Evidence and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines Manual. Slip op. 29. Judge Gleeson’s ruling calls for an express “congressional authorization” for “a robust federal certification system” that “could include an enforceable presumption of rehabilitation, as is offered in New York.” Slip op. 29.
The factors Judge Gleeson considered in concluding that Ms. Doe was rehabilitated and deserved the certificate included: “the nature of [her] crime,” her “current economic and social circumstances,” and “how Doe has spent her time since her release from prison,” including her “efforts to rebuild herself” as “a productive member of society.” Slip op. 31.
Even with the court’s caveat that this is not an exhaustive list, the list provides some guidance to other judges who would consider issuing similar certificates. In the meantime, Judge Gleeson attached the redacted version of the federal certificate of rehabilitation issued to Ms. Doe to the opinion to serve as a model to be used by other district judges.