The Court of Appeals recently in Larracuente v. U.S., determined and defined more precisely application of “Interest of Justice” provision of the sealing of the arrest record Statute.

Appellant moved pursuant to D.C. Code § 16-803.02 to seal his records where he had pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute (PWID) marijuana.  The trial court concluded that the government had shown by a preponderance of the evidence that appellant possessed an amount of marijuana that exceeded the amount decriminalized, that is more than two ounces and moreover sealing of the record was not available nor discretionary under the “interest of justice standard.”

Specifically, § 16-803.02 (a)(2)(A) provides:

In cases that do not meet the requirements of paragraph (1) of this subsection, the Superior Court may grant a motion to seal if it is in the interest of justice to do so. In making this determination, the Court shall weigh:

  1. The interests of the movant in sealing the publicly available records of his or her arrest, charge, conviction, and related Superior Court proceedings;
  2. The community’s interest in retaining access to those records;
  3. The community’s interest in furthering the movant’s rehabilitation and enhancing the movant’s employability; and
  4. Any other information it considers relevant.

The appellant argued on appeal that:

  • The Superior Court’s ruling was based on an erroneous interpretation and application of the record-sealing statute;
  • The government failed to meet its burden of establishing that appellant’s conviction was not for conduct that has since been decriminalized;
  • The Superior Court relied on speculation in concluding otherwise; and
  • The court abused its discretion and deprived appellant of due process in denying his motion without a hearing.

Appellant also contended that the lower court misapplied the statute by failing to take a “categorical approach,” rather than a case-specific-facts approach, to determine whether the offense of which appellant was convicted had been decriminalized.

Appellant argued that section 16-803.02(a) should be interpreted to mandate approval of a motion to seal so long as the least culpable act that would satisfy the elements of the offense to which the record relates has been decriminalized.  That the case-specific-facts approach creates inequities and the categorical approach is necessary to achieve the remedial instructions of the DC Council decriminalizing possession of marijuana in small quantities.

The Court of Appeals disagreed and clarified that the interest of justice standard requires a case specific approach rather than categorical implication.

Thus applying the fact specific approach, it was evident that the appellant had possessed and by direct plea and acknowledgment 1100 grams of “green weed substance” – an amount the Superior Court found was “significantly more” than two ounces of marijuana. Moreover the DEA report indicated that the marijuana received for testing totaled over 660 grams and per the Gerstein (charging document), the recovered green leafy substance weighed 1189.3 grams.

The case-specific-facts mandates finding sufficient basis for concluding that appellant possessed a quantity of marijuana that has not been decriminalized and thus not in the interest of justice to have the record sealed.

Refer to our Washington DC Criminal Lawyer page for more details pertaining to motions to seal arrest records.

Categories: Criminal Defense.