June 24, 2019

Tenth Circuit: Congress Did Not Grant Authority to Expunge Records in Federal Youth Corrections Act

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Tokoph v. United States on Tuesday, December 23, 2014.

David Tokoph was sentenced in 1974 under the then-effective Federal Youth Corrections Act, which provided that for offenders sentenced to probation who met certain criteria, the court could set aside the conviction and provide the offender a certificate to that effect. In 1982, Tokoph was discharged, the sentence was set aside, and the court issued him a certificate to that effect. In 2012, Tokoph petitioned the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico to seal and expunge his records. The district court found it lacked authority to do so and denied the motion. Tokoph appealed.

The Tenth Circuit evaluated the case law on which Tokoph relied and found that his proposition was only supported by dicta, not holdings in the cases. To the contrary, the Tenth Circuit found the district court correctly followed binding circuit precedent in refusing to expunge the conviction. Tokoph also argued that Supreme Court precedent indicated authority to seal records, but the Tenth Circuit found that the indications were weak, and the binding Tenth Circuit precedent on point controlled. The Tenth Circuit also noted there is no applicable inherent equitable authority to grant expunction of a valid conviction.

The district court’s denial of Tokoph’s motion to expunge was affirmed. The Tenth Circuit reversed the order sealing the record.