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L.F.W. v. Missouri State Highway Patrol Criminal Records Repository

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District, Second Division

October 10, 2019

L.F.W., JR., Petitioner-Respondent,
v.
MISSOURI STATE HIGHWAY PATROL CRIMINAL RECORDS REPOSITORY, ET. AL., Respondents-Appellants.

          APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF JASPER COUNTY Honorable Judge David B. Mouton

          OPINION

          MARY W. SHEFFIELD, J.

         The State of Missouri (Criminal Records Repository of the Missouri State Highway Patrol) ("State") appeals the three judgments expunging criminal records of L.F.W., Jr. ("L.W."). The State argues L.W.'s records were ineligible for expungement pursuant to section 610.140 because: (1) his arrest involved a violation of state law regulating the operation of a motor vehicle and L.W. had been issued a commercial driver's license ("CDL"); and (2) his petitions for expungement were filed prematurely.[1]We agree, and reverse.

         Background and Procedural History

         On March 28, 2016, L.W. was operating a commercial motor vehicle when he was issued three citations by the Missouri State Highway Patrol.[2] The first citation ("Case 1") listed the offense as "[f]ailed to register nonresident commercial motor vehicle - reciprocal agreement: NO temporary" in violation of section 301.277. L.W. was arrested and fingerprinted in connection with the Case 1 citation.[3] The second citation ("Case 2") listed the offense as "operating commercial motor vehicle without [a] seatbelt" in violation of section 307.400. The third citation ("Case 3") listed the offense as "[o]perat[ing] as an [i]nter-state motor fuel user without being licensed as such" in violation of section 142.830. On all three citations, in the space where L.W.'s driver's license number was listed, the box was checked "yes" under the "CDL" heading. Case 1 was later dismissed. The original charges in Cases 2 and 3 were later amended, and L.W. ultimately pled guilty to driving without a seatbelt (Case 2) and a defective equipment infraction (Case 3).[4]

         On February 13, 2018, L.W. filed three amended expungement petitions with attached exhibits, including the original related citation in each case. In the first petition (Case 1), the "dismissed" case, he sought expungement of records related to "failure to register." In the second petition (Case 2), he sought expungement of records related to a plea of guilty to "operating w/o seatbelt." In the third petition (Case 3), he sought expungement of records related to a plea of guilty to "defective equipment."

         The trial court held a hearing on May 24, 2018. At the hearing, no witnesses testified but the State's attorney argued that the filing was premature as three years had not passed. The court took the case based on the "verified petitions" and orally granted expungement on all three cases. On June 4, 2018, the court entered its written "Order of Expungement" in each of the three cases granting expungement of L.W.'s criminal records.

         On July 3, 2018, the State filed motions on each case to reconsider the court's expungement orders. In these motions, the State alleged L.W. "possessed, or was required to possess a [CDL]" at the time of his arrest or when he committed the offense, therefore L.W. was "not eligible for expungement[.]" The court made no ruling on the motions to reconsider. On November 19, 2018, the court filed three "Judgment[s]" of expungement.[5] The State timely appealed, and the three appeals were consolidated by order of this Court.[6]

         Standard of Review

          In a court-tried case, the standard of review is governed by Murphy v. Carron. W.C.H. v. State, 546 S.W.3d 612, 614 (Mo. App. E.D. 2018) (citing Murphy v. Carron, 536 S.W.2d 30, 32 (Mo. banc 1976)); R.G. v. Missouri State Hwy. Patrol, 580 S.W.3d 38, 40 (Mo. App. W.D. 2019). The trial court's judgment will be affirmed "unless there is no substantial evidence to support it, it is against the weight of the evidence, it erroneously declares the law, or it erroneously applies the law." W.C.H., 546 S.W.3d at 614. The application of statutory requirements is a question of law, not fact, and will be reviewed de novo. Id.

         Discussion

         The State raises two points on appeal: 1) that the trial court erred in ordering expungement because L.W. had been issued a CDL and was not eligible to have his records expunged as the offenses involved the regulation of motor vehicles; and 2) that L.W.'s petitions were filed prematurely.[7] With respect to Case 1, the State's point regarding the CDL has merit. With respect to Case 2 and Case 3, the State's point regarding the time requirements for filing a petition for expungement has merit.

         Case 1

         Section 610.140 states any person "may apply to any court in which such person was charged or found guilty of any offenses, violations, or infractions for an order to expunge records of such arrest, plea, trial, or conviction." § 610.140.1. Not all offenses are eligible for expungement, however, because section 610.140.2 "sets forth a list of ten categories of offenses, violations, and infractions" ineligible for expungement. R.H. v. Missouri State Hwy. Patrol Crim. Records Repository, 578 S.W.3d 398 (Mo. App. E.D. 2019). Section 610.140 states:

2. The following offenses, violations, and infractions shall not be eligible for expungement under this section:
. . . .
(10) Any violations of any state law or county or municipal ordinance regulating the operation of motor vehicles when committed by an individual who has been issued a [CDL] or is required to possess a [CDL] issued by this state or any other state.

§§ 610.140.2 and 610.140.2(10).[8]

         Whether section 610.140.2(10)'s prohibition on expungement for certain categories of offenses applies to L.W.'s petitions is not an issue of fact but an issue of statutory interpretation. For such issues, this Court's job is "to discern the intent of the legislature from the language used." Spradling v. SSM Health Care St. Louis, 313 S.W.3d 683, 686 (Mo. banc 2010). Issues of statutory interpretation are subject to de novo review. Newsome v. Kansas City, Mo. Sch. Dist., 520 S.W.3d 769, 780 (Mo. banc 2017). Because "the language in section 610.140.2 is clear and unambiguous," the words must be given their "plain and ordinary meanings." R.H., 578 S.W.3d at 403.

         In Case 1, the citation alleged a violation of section 301.277. This statute "regulat[es] the operation of motor vehicles," because section 301.277 requires "that the operator of any vehicle for which reciprocal privileges are claimed must have in his possession a valid and legal registration certificate or other evidence of proper registration issued for such vehicle by the state or other jurisdiction in which it is registered." § 610.140.2(1o), § 301.277.2; see generally § 301.271-.279 (dealing with reciprocity in registration with other states).

         The evidence before the trial court was that L.W. "had been issued a [CDL]." The Case 1 citation showed the box checked "yes" for "CDL." L.W. held a CDL on the date the citation was issued. The charge on the citation stated "Failed to register nonresident commercial motor vehicle - reciprocal agreement: NO temporary[.]"

         L.W.'s ineligibility for an expungement in Case 1 is for an arrest, and not for a conviction, because this case was dismissed. Section ...


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