United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
ROSEMARY M. COLLYER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Donna Woods moves pro se for the expungement of her
conviction and all related arrest records in this matter. As
explained below, Ms. Woods presents no extraordinary reasons
to grant her motion so the Court will deny it.
August 8, 2007, the government filed a two-count information
against Ms. Woods, charging her with one count of mail fraud
to obtain money in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1341 and one
count of second degree theft for wrongfully obtaining and
using unemployment insurance payments, in violation of 22
D.C. Code §§ 3211, 3212(b). See
Information [Dkt. 1]. On September 21, 2007, Ms. Woods pled
guilty to one count of second degree theft. See Plea
Agreement [Dkt. 4] at 1. The government dismissed Count 1,
mail fraud, on an oral motion at sentencing. See
1/2/2008 Minute Entry. On January 2, 2008, the Court
sentenced Ms. Woods to 180 days incarceration, 36 months of
probation, and restitution of $18, 945.00 at a rate of
$400.00 per month. See Judgment [Dkt. 11]. In accord
with a recommendation from the Probation Office, Ms.
Woods' supervision was allowed to expire as scheduled on
January 1, 2011. See Probation Petition [Dkt. 13] at
2; see also 7/21/2010 Minute Order.
January 18, 2018, Ms. Woods moved to expunge all criminal
records relating to “two counts of ‘second degree
theft, '” so that she might “apply for work
in the Federal government and restore [her]self.”
See Mot. to Expunge (Mot.) [Dkt. 14] at 1. In
support of her motion, Ms. Woods apologizes for her actions
and states that she will not engage in future criminal
conduct. She also states that the Probation Office for the
District Court of the District of Columbia has certified that
she has satisfied all conditions of her probation, and that
she has paid her restitution in full. Id.
opposition, the government contends that the harm of being
unable to obtain federal government employment is neither
unusual nor sufficient to outweigh the government's
legitimate interest in maintaining criminal records.
See Opp'n to Mot. to Expunge (Opp'n) [Dkt.
16] at 7.
authority to grant expungement derives from the
“general power of the federal courts to fashion
appropriate remedies to protect important legal
rights.” Doe v. Webster, 606 F.2d 1226, 1230
n.8 (D.C. Cir. 1979). The remedy is “inherent and is
not dependent on express statutory provision, and it exists
to vindicate substantial rights provided by statute as well
as by organic law.” Menard v. Saxbe, 498 F.2d
1017, 1023 (D.C. Cir. 1974).
there is no “nebulous” or
“standalone” right to expungement.
Abdelfattah v. Dep't of Homeland Sec., 787 F.3d
524, 536, 538 (D.C. Cir. 2015). “Even individuals who
were never convicted are not entitled to the expungement of
their arrest records as a matter of course.”
Doe, 606 F.2d at 1231. The decision to grant
expungement of criminal records requires careful
consideration of the particular facts and circumstances of
each case, and depends upon the court's ultimate
determination that the “remedy is necessary and
appropriate in order to preserve basic legal rights.”
Sullivan v. Murphy, 478 F.2d 938, 968 (D.C. Cir.
1973). The court must find a “logical relationship
between the injury and the requested remedy.”
Livingston v. DOJ, 759 F.2d 74, 78 (D.C. Cir. 1985)
court's decision regarding an expungement request
requires a “delicate balancing of the equities.”
Id. “The general rule. . . [is that]
expungement of an arrest record is appropriate when serious
governmental misbehavior leading to the arrest, or unusually
substantial harm to the defendant not in any way attributable
to him, outweighs the government's need for a record of
the arrest.” Doe, 606 F.2d at 1231.
Expungement is the proper remedy when there is a “lack
of probable cause coupled with special circumstances,
flagrant violations of the Constitution, or other unusual and
extraordinary circumstances.” Id. at 1230
(citation omitted). Extraordinary circumstances may include
politically or racially motivated arrests, misleading law
enforcement testimony, incorrect legal advice, or an arrest
that was predicated on a statute that was subsequently
declared unconstitutional. Id. at 1230 nn.10-11
(noting examples of “extraordinary circumstances”
that had justified expungement) (citations omitted).
Woods seeks expungement of her criminal record so that she
may clear her name and advance her career by seeking
reemployment with the federal government. She has satisfied
all conditions of her probation and asserts that she will not
be “putting [her]self in situations of this type ever
again.” Mot. at 1. She neither challenges the legality
of her conviction on constitutional grounds, nor claims that
any statute authorizes her expungement request. Id.
Instead, she seeks expungement of her criminal record because
she says it is preventing her from achieving reemployment by
the federal government. Id.
is justified when the movant can show that she has suffered a
harm rising to the level of extraordinary or unusual
circumstances, and that the need to prevent such harm
outweighs the government's interest in maintaining
criminal records. See Doe, 606 F.2d at 1231. It is
undisputed that the existence of a criminal record leads to a
variety of harms, including that it may pose a
“substantial barrier to employment.”
Menard, 498 F.2d at 1024. This Circuit has
recognized that the “adverse effect on job
opportunity” is the “main evil produced by
dissemination of arrest records.” Morrow v.
District of Columbia, 417 F.2d 728, 742 (D.C. Cir.
1969). Yet, absent some showing of a “violation of
rights, ” difficulty finding meaningful employment does
not “rise to the level of exceptional circumstances
necessary to justify this Court's exercise of its
equitable power to expunge records.” United States
v. Wilson, No. 98-mj-558, 2008 WL 2446134, at *1 (D.D.C.
June 17, 2008) (holding that although defendant's
criminal record was a hurdle to her attaining new employment
and becoming a foster parent, such harm was insufficient to
justify expungement). Ms. Woods has not alleged a violation
of her rights. She makes no claim that a government official
mishandled either her arrest or her conviction, or that she
is innocent of the crime for which she was convicted. The
only evidence she provides in support of expungement is that
she has completed her sentence and is unable to obtain
reemployment with the federal government because of her
to obtain specific employment is neither an exceptional
circumstance nor an unusual result of a criminal conviction.
In fact, a criminal record is a “usual [and] ordinary
barrier to gainful employment, ” see United States
v. Derouen, 279 F.Supp.3d 298, 300 (D.D.C. 2018), and
collateral employment consequences are an expected
consequence of a conviction. United States v. Davis,
No. 72-342, 2006 WL 1409761, at *2 (D.D.C. May 23, 2006)
(holding that the “mere existence” of
consequences, including inability to obtain employment,
“does not rise to the level of extreme or exceptional
circumstances necessary to justify the expungement of
records”). Ms. Woods has clearly alleged collateral
employment consequences as a direct result of her conviction.
However, her inability to obtain reemployment with the
federal government is not only a typical consequence of a
conviction, it is a harm that is directly attributable to Ms.
Woods' own prior actions. See Doe, 606 F.2d at
1231 (noting expungement would be appropriate if
“unusually substantial harm to the defendant not in any
way attributable to him outweighs the government's need