The Court of Appeals in Washington v. U.S., decided recently addressed and interpreted the implications of “interest of Justice” in connection with sealing of the arrest records.

DC Code 16-803.02 provides in pertinent parts:

  • (a) person arrested for, charged with, or convicted of a criminal offense pursuant to the District of Columbia Official Code or the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations that was decriminalized or legalized after the date of the arrest, charge, or conviction may file a motion to seal the record of the arrest, charge, conviction, and related Superior Court proceedings at any time, and
  • (A) 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: (i) The interests of the movant in sealing the publicly available records of his or her arrest, charge, conviction, and related Superior Court proceedings; (ii) The community’s interest in retaining access to those records; 5 (iii) The community’s interest in furthering the movant’s rehabilitation and enhancing the movant’s employability; and (iv) Any other information it considers relevant.

Here the appellant Washington sought to seal criminal record of arrest for one count of possession of PCP as well as possession of marijuana.  The trial court summarily denied the motion citing that the PCP arrest was a disqualifying arrest and thus cannot be sealed and in the interim also denied the sealing of the arrest record for possession of marijuana which was qualifying arrest and eligible for sealing.  Incidentally both underlying charges had been nolle prosequi (dismissed) only leaving the arrest record.

Washington argued on appeal that his possession of marijuana should have been sealed as underlying offense now decriminalized and the interest of justice standard should extend to sealing of the arrest for PCP as well.

Although the Court of Appeals remanded the case to the trial court, the legal basis for remand was because the interest of justice standard actually applied to sealing of the record for the possession of marijuana and not the PCP charge.  The trial court had not addressed whether to grant the appellant part of the relief he sought by sealing the records of his accompanying marijuana-possession charges and that was an error.

In short, the Superior Court may grant a motion to seal the record of the entire case if it is in the interest of justice to do so.  Here the portion of a record that relates to an offense that was subsequently decriminalized or legalized even if — contrary to § 16-803.02(a)(1)(the offense was “in connection with” another still-criminal or still-illegal charge, or “result[ed] in” conviction of a still-criminal or still-illegal offense) may be sealed if in the interest of justice.

Thus, the trial court could have reasonably find that it is in the interest of justice to seal the records of a marijuana-possession arrest, charge, or conviction even while leaving to stand the records of an accompanying charge or conviction for a still criminal or still-illegal offense – that is the PCP charge.

In conclusion, in the interest of justice standard allows for sealing the portion of a case record pertaining to decriminalized or legalized conduct but does not authorize the court to seal the portions of a case record pertaining to an accompanying, still criminal offense. Also and more importantly the standard allows the lower court to bifurcate sealing of the same record addressing each of the charges individually.

Refer to our Washington DC Criminal Lawyer page for more detailed analysis of criminal offenses in DC.

Categories: Criminal Defense.