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Doe v. Zappala

December 17, 2009

JOHN DOE, APPELLANT
v.
STEPHEN A. ZAPPALA, JR. IN HIS CAPACITY AS DISTRICT ATTORNEY OF ALLEGHENY COUNTY; BRUCE BEEMER IN HIS CAPACITY AS A DEPUTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY OF ALLEGHENY COUNTY; BUREAU OF POLICE OF THE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY OF THE CITY OF PITTSBURGH



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Simpson

Argued: October 13, 2009

BEFORE: HONORABLE ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge, HONORABLE ROCHELLE S. FRIEDMAN, Senior Judge, HONORABLE JIM FLAHERTY, Senior Judge.

OPINION

In this appeal, John Doe (Appellant) asks whether the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County (trial court) erred in denying his request for permanent injunction, pursuant to the Criminal History Records Information Act (CHRIA), 18 Pa. C.S. §§9101-9183, against Stephen A. Zappala, Jr., District Attorney, Bruce Beemer, Deputy District Attorney, and, the Bureau of Police of the Department of Public Safety of the City of Pittsburgh (collectively, the Commonwealth). The trial court determined the records Appellant sought to enjoin from use include investigative information, intelligence information, and public transcripts; therefore, these records are exempt from expungement under the CHRIA. Discerning no error in the trial court's determinations, we affirm.

In 2001, the Commonwealth charged Appellant with criminal homicide and other related offenses in connection with the death of James Waite. The Commonwealth alleged Appellant conspired with Michael Morgan to commit these crimes.

Approximately five to six days after the death of Waite, Morgan was found dead by drowning. A coroner ruled Morgan's death a homicide, but the Commonwealth did not arrest anyone in connection with his death until 2006.

In 2002, a jury acquitted Appellant of all charges in the Waite case. Following trial, Appellant sought to expunge his criminal records arising from his arrest and prosecution. See 18 Pa. C.S. §9122 (Expungement). In April, 2004, another judge of the trial court signed two standardized, pre-printed expungement orders requiring the "[Commonwealth] [to] expunge and destroy the official and unofficial arrest, expungement and other documents pertaining to the arrest or prosecution" of Appellant for homicide and other related charges (Expungement Orders). Original Record (O.R.) at Ex. A-1, A-3.

In August, 2007, the Commonwealth charged Appellant with criminal homicide in connection with the death of Morgan. A short time later, Appellant learned the Commonwealth retained certain records from the Waite case and intended to use the information to prove Appellant's involvement in the homicide of Morgan.

In August, 2008, Appellant filed a Motion in Limine in the criminal proceedings requesting that the Commonwealth be prohibited from introducing certain evidence from the prior prosecution pursuant to the Expungement Orders.*fn1

In particular, Appellant argued the Commonwealth is prohibited from introducing evidence of his alleged involvement in the death of Waite that could lead a jury to infer it is more likely than not he killed Morgan.

On October 3, 2008, Appellant filed the current complaint (Permanent Injunction) seeking "an injunction . directing [the Commonwealth] to destroy all records of the charges of which [Appellant] was acquitted and prohibiting their use in [Appellant's] impending trial." 18 Pa. C.S. §9183 (relating to injunctions); Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 7a. On October 8, 2008, Appellant filed a motion for a Preliminary Injunction seeking to "prevent the threatened misuse of the records." R.R. at 11a.

In December, 2008, the trial court denied Appellant's request for a Permanent Injunction, concluding "the information and materials for which expungement is sought are investigative materials and public record materials, which do not serve the purpose or meet the intent of the [CHRIA]."*fn2 O.R. at 9; R.R. at 45a.

In its subsequent 1925(a) Opinion, the trial court explained that in cases of acquittal, a petitioner is automatically entitled to the expungement of an arrest record; neveretheless, there is information exempt from expungement, such as investigative and intelligence information. See Commonwealth v. D.M., 548 Pa. 131, 695 A.2d 770 (1997). Trial Ct. Op., 3/2/09, at 2-3; R.R. at 51a-52a.

The trial court concluded Appellant was attempting to prevent the Commonwealth from using investigative and intelligence information specifically exempt from expungement. Trial Ct. Op. at 3-4; R.R. at 52a-53a. The trial court further concluded the use of jury trial transcripts from the prior prosecution is permissible in the impending prosecution because those transcripts are public records filed with the court. Id.; see 18 Pa. C.S. §9104 (relating to the scope of public records that shall not be expunged). This appeal followed.*fn3

Appellant contends the trial court erred when it declined to enjoin the Commonwealth from using the records retained from the Waite case in his prosecution for the murder of Morgan. Appellant argues his criminal records from the Waite case do not meet the investigative and intelligence information exemptions under the CHRIA and, thus, the Commonwealth should expunge these records. Alternatively, Appellant submits the scope of the trial court's Expungement Orders is broader than the CHRIA. As such, Appellant maintains the Commonwealth should expunge his criminal records in accordance with the Expungement Orders.

At the outset, we note that the CHRIA provides for the "collection, compilation, maintenance and dissemination of criminal history record information by the [Pennsylvania State Police]." Dep't of the Auditor Gen. v. Pa. State Police, 844 A.2d 78, 80 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2004); 18 Pa. C.S. §9103 (Applicability). Section 9102 defines "Criminal record history information" as:

Information collected by criminal justice agencies concerning individuals, and arising from the initiation of a criminal proceeding, consisting of [1] identifiable descriptions, [2] dates and notations of arrests, [3] indictments, information or other formal criminal charges and [4] any dispositions arising therefrom. The term does not include intelligence information,*fn4 ] ...


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