Emory Law Journal


Brandon Salky


Criminal records do not always provide the disposition of the case. Therefore, in some circumstances, individuals who were arrested and subsequently had their charges dismissed or who were acquitted at trial are not always distinguishable from those convicted of a crime. For those individuals who were convicted of a crime, criminal records additionally do not always provide information on the crime you were convicted of. Consequently, the proliferation in access to background checks has resulted in the stigma associated with an arrest record becoming a significant barrier to employment and housing opportunities for individuals with a record. Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision in Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Insurance Co. of America, nearly every federal circuit had held that district courts had ancillary jurisdiction to entertain motions to expunge criminal records solely under equitable considerations. District courts, in deciding these petitions, would balance the interests of the individuals in having their records expunged against the interests of the public in having the records widely available. Because of the great strength of the public interest in the availability of these records, a court would only grant these petitions in extraordinary circumstances. The Court in Kokkonen attempted to clarify the scope of the murky and ill-defined ancillary jurisdiction doctrine. The Court set forth two circumstances in which ancillary jurisdiction had generally been asserted: “(1) to permit disposition by a single court of claims that are, in varying respects and degrees, factually interdependent . . . and (2) to enable a court to function successfully, that is, to manage its proceedings, vindicate its authority, and effectuate its decrees . . . .” After this decision was cast down, there has been a domino effect of federal circuits holding they no longer have the authority to assert ancillary jurisdiction over equitable expungement motions reasoning that they do not fall within the reach of the test Kokkonen articulates. Unfortunately for individuals with criminal records, these circuit courts interpret the Court’s decision in Kokkonen far too narrowly. Accordingly, this Comment argues that neither the language of the holding in Kokkonen nor the holding itself warrant the restrictive interpretation that these circuits apply. These lower courts are disregarding the qualifying language the Court employed and the cues the Court gave that demonstrate its intent was not to set a strict standard for ancillary jurisdiction.