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United States v. Rowlands

June 9, 2006

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
DAVID C. ROWLANDS, APPELLANT



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey (D.C. Crim. No. 81-cr-00245) District Judge: Hon. John C. Lifland.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sloviter, Circuit Judge.

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued April 21, 2006

Before: SLOVITER and AMBRO, Circuit Judges, and DuBOIS*fn1 , District Judge.

OPINION OF THE COURT

This case presents the question of whether federal courts have the power to authorize expungement of a criminal record where the legality of the underlying criminal conviction is not being challenged. The District Court denied the application of Appellant David C. Rowlands for expungement of his 1982 conviction of several white collar crimes. On appeal, Rowlands contends that the District Court erred in holding that it lacked jurisdiction over his petition for expungement either pursuant to its inherent power to order equitable relief or pursuant to the All Writs Act.

I.

David Rowlands was a public official and employee of the town of Kearny, New Jersey. He served, at various times, as a Councilman and Mayor of Kearny. Unbeknownst to Rowlands, another Kearny public official solicited a bribe of $12,000 in cash from Richard Mace, the owner of a furniture store. In exchange for the bribe, Richard Mace was promised approval of his plans to build additional showrooms. Rowlands received $6,000 in cash, and the remainder of the bribe was kept by another public official.

Rowlands was subsequently indicted and, following a jury trial, he was convicted of conspiring to obstruct and delay interstate commerce in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951, knowingly attempting to obstruct and delay interstate commerce by extortion, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951-52, and knowingly attempting to influence and obstruct a federal grand jury investigation, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1503. Rowlands was sentenced to eight years in prison. In explaining this sentence, the District Court stated: "I was morally certain that the way they were operating in that community on that one transaction indicated to me that they were in business and that there was a lot more to Messrs. Rowlands and Grimes than the $6,000 they each took from Mr. Mace." App. at 31-32. Nonetheless, after Rowlands had served only ten months, the District Court reduced Rowlands's sentence to time served. Two Assistant United States Attorneys who had prosecuted Rowlands on behalf of the Government urged reduction of Rowlands's sentence because of his significant post-sentencing cooperation in the Government's investigation and prosecution of others. At the sentence reduction hearing, the District Court noted, "I am satisfied, morally and beyond any shadow of a doubt that these two men have fully cooperated and have done everything they could do to be honest, truthful and helpful, and to make amends." App. at 33. While a co-defendant's defense lawyer was present at the hearing, Rowlands's defense lawyer was not.

Since Rowlands's release from prison in 1983, he has been gainfully employed in the retail automobile industry as a salesman and manager. In 1990, he sought reinstatement of his teaching certificate, which had been revoked pursuant to New Jersey law, because of his conviction. See generally N.J.S.A. 18A:6-38. Two Assistant United States Attorneys who prosecuted Rowlands on behalf of the Government wrote letters on Rowlands's behalf. One wrote to the New Jersey State Board of Examiners and urged the Board to "exercise lenity" and reinstate Rowlands's teaching certificate. The other sent a letter that stated, "While there is no question that Mr. Rowlands was properly convicted of serious crimes, there is also no question that he has been punished for those crimes and that he has done all within his power to make restitution. . . . It is my personal hope that David Rowlands' past criminal activity will not be a permanent impediment to meaningful and rewarding employment and community service in the future." App. at 36. In 2005, the State Board of Examiners declined to reinstate Rowlands's teaching certificate or to recertify him.

Rowlands then turned to the courts. In January 2005, Rowlands petitioned the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey for an expungement of his criminal record. Rowlands contended that the District Court had jurisdiction over his petition pursuant to its inherent equitable power and pursuant to the All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1651. The District Court dismissed the petition, concluding that neither its inherent equitable powers nor the All Writs Act provided it with jurisdiction over Rowlands's petition. On July 8, 2005, Rowlands timely filed his notice of appeal with this court.

On this appeal, Rowlands explains that he seeks expungement of his record in order to gain re-certification as a teacher. He contends that because his defense attorney was not present at his reduction of sentence hearing, the issue of whether his conviction should serve as a permanent forfeiture of his New Jersey teaching license was never raised.

This court has twice previously considered the question of whether federal courts have the power to authorize expungement of a criminal record. See United States v. Noonan, 906 F.2d 952 (3d Cir. 1990); United States v. Dunegan, 251 F.3d 477 (3d Cir. 2001). Rowlands contends that these decisions are ...


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