IN THE MATTER OF THE APPLICATION OF EDWARD TARROBAGO FINLEY, FOR AN ORDER TO SEAL RECORDS.
CITY OF HENDERSON; AND THE STATE OF NEVADA, Respondents. EDWARD TARROBAGO FINLEY, Appellant,
from a district court order denying a petition to seal
criminal records. Eighth Judicial District Court, Clark
County; Susan Johnson, Judge.
Wright Law Group and John Henry Wright and Christopher B.
Phillips, Las Vegas, for Appellant.
B. Wolfson, District Attorney, and John T. Niman, Deputy
District Attorney, Clark County, for Respondent State of
Nevada. Nicholas Vaskov, City Attorney, and Marc M.
Schifalacqua, Senior Assistant City Attorney, Henderson, for
Respondent City of Henderson.
GIBBONS, C.J., TAO and BULLA, JJ.
act of grace, the Nevada Legislature has decided that persons
convicted of certain types of crimes (both misdemeanors and
many felonies) may, in certain circumstances and if they have
not committed any new crimes for a certain length of time,
ask the judiciary to have their convictions
"sealed," which means that the convictions are
"deemed never to have occurred," thereby restoring
a panoply of civil rights that convicted felons otherwise do
not enjoy. See NRS 179.285. Not all convictions are eligible
to be sealed-for example, sex offenses and crimes against
children are never eligible to be sealed no matter how old
the convictions. See NRS 179.245(6). But for many
other offenses, if the person has proven able to successfully
turn their life around and live crime-free long enough, the
Legislature has enacted a series of statutes designed to give
courts the power to seal convictions for those deemed
"rehabilitated" and who deserve "second
chances." See NRS 179.2405 (declaring the
public policy behind sealing statutes).
of these criminal record sealing statutes have been around a
long time, but in recent years the Legislature has changed
the procedures that must be followed to obtain such sealing.
Previously, petitioners had to file a separate petition in
each court in which they were convicted of any crime, and
that court could seal only the convictions that it issued. If
the person was convicted of different crimes in different
levels of the judiciary (e.g., municipal court, justice
court, or district court), then they had to file separate
petitions in each court to address the convictions issued by
that court. But recently the Legislature decided to permit a
convicted person to file a single consolidated petition in a
single district court asking to seal convictions involving
multiple cases from, different courts.
question raised by this appeal is this: on the one hand,
criminal convictions are eligible to be sealed only if the
person was not convicted of any subsequent crimes for a
certain prescribed period of time thereafter (ranging from
one year to ten years after the expiration of the prior
sentence), see NRS 179.245 (1), (5); and on the
other hand, once sealed, a conviction is "deemed never
to have occurred," see NRS 179.285. Normally,
an earlier conviction followed very quickly by another
conviction renders the first conviction ineligible for
sealing. But suppose enough time elapses so that the latest
conviction is eligible to be sealed. Once that later
conviction is sealed and "deemed never to have
occurred," does that then make an earlier conviction
eligible to also be sealed (since it is no longer
chronologically followed by another later conviction), even
though it would not have been eligible prior to sealing the
later conviction? And can entire chains of otherwise
ineligible successive convictions now all be sealed by
unwinding the convictions one after another in reverse
chronological order all the way back in time to the
person's first conviction?
plain words of the statutes provide our answer: as enacted,
the statutes vest district courts with considerable
discretion in handling petitions involving multiple
convictions. If they wish, district courts may evaluate
successive convictions in reverse chronological order,
thereby potentially sealing earlier convictions that would
not have been eligible had the court instead considered the
convictions in forward chronological order (i.e., by deeming
the later convictions to have never occurred). On the other
hand, the statutes do not require that district courts handle
a train of multiple successive convictions this way. Quite to
the contrary, NRS 179.295 "does not prohibit"
courts from considering previously sealed convictions when
determining whether to grant a petition to seal other
criminal records. In other words, even if a later conviction
has been sealed, the district court may still consider it in
deciding whether earlier convictions should be sealed or not,
and may rely upon the later sealed conviction to conclude
that the petitioner was not truly rehabilitated and refuse to
seal the earlier conviction.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Tarrobago Finley filed a consolidated petition in district
court to seal records associated with multiple different
criminal convictions in multiple different courts throughout
Clark County. The State of Nevada (through the Clark County
District Attorney) and the City of Henderson (the City)
opposed Finley's petition on various grounds, only one of
which matters to this appeal. The City argued that one of
Finley's convictions, a 2004 non-felony battery domestic
violence conviction, was ineligible to be sealed because
Finley was convicted of new felony offenses within the
seven-year time period specified in NRS 179.245(1)(e) for him
to remain crime-free in order to have the 2004 non-felony
a brief hearing, the district court issued a written order
denying Finley's petition. The district court concluded
that, because Finley was convicted of new crimes within the
seven-year waiting period required to invoke the district
court's discretion to seal a non-felony battery domestic
violence conviction, the 2004 conviction was ineligible for
sealing. The district court further concluded that Finley had
not satisfied the requisite waiting periods for the new
offenses and therefore also failed to invoke the court's
discretion to seal those convictions. Finley now appeals.
appeal, Finley primarily argues that the district court's
interpretation of the governing statutes produced an
absurd result and rendered a particular statute (NRS
179.2595) meaningless. Specifically, he argues that the
district court should have considered whether he was eligible
to have his records sealed by considering each of his
convictions individually in reverse chronological order
(i.e., it should have started with his most recent
conviction, determined whether to seal that record, and if
so, proceeded to evaluate the next most recent conviction).
Finley argues that this is so because under NRS 179.285, once
a record is sealed, all proceedings recounted in that record
are deemed never to have occurred, meaning that a district
court working in reverse chronological order could not
consider those proceedings (if sealed) when determining
whether a petitioner is eligible to have an earlier record
sealed. Finley argues that he could have achieved this result
by incrementally filing multiple petitions in each separate
court in which he was ...