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State v. Moraca

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

May 1, 2018


          Assigned on Briefs February 27, 2018

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for McMinn County Nos. 93-233, 93-234, 93-511 Andrew Freiberg, Judge

         The petitioner, Mark D. Moraca, appeals the denial of his motion to expunge the records of his 1994 convictions for simple possession of amphetamine and simple possession of cocaine. Discerning no error, we affirm.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3; Judgment of the Circuit Court Affirmed

          Douglas A. Trant, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Mark D. Moraca.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Benjamin A. Ball, Assistant Attorney General; and Stephen D. Crump, District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          James Curwood Witt, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which D. Kelly Thomas, Jr., and Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., JJ., joined.



         On July 22, 1994, the petitioner pleaded guilty to one count of driving under the influence ("DUI"), one count of simple possession of amphetamine, and one count of simple possession of cocaine in exchange for a sentence of 11 months and 29 days to be served as 48 hours' incarceration followed by probation. In 2017, the pro se petitioner petitioned the McMinn County Circuit Court to expunge the records of his simple possession convictions pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-32-101. The State conceded that the petitioner was statutorily qualified for expunction and did not oppose the petition.[2] On July 3, 2017, the trial court entered an order denying the petition, holding that the petitioner's conviction of DUI barred the expunction of the simple possession convictions.

         In this timely appeal, the petitioner challenges the trial court's denial of his petition for expunction, arguing that the trial court misapplied Code section 40-32-101 and that the trial court abused its discretion by denying his petition. The State avers that the trial court did not err. [3]

         At issue in this case is the correct application of Code section 40-32-101 to the circumstances of this case, which we review de novo. See, e.g., State v. Howard, 504 S.W.3d 260, 267 (Tenn. 2016).

         The most basic principle of statutory construction is "'to ascertain and give effect to the legislative intent without unduly restricting or expanding a statute's coverage beyond its intended scope.'" Houghton v. Aramark Educ. Res., Inc., 90 S.W.3d 676, 678 (Tenn. 2002) (quoting Owens v. State, 908 S.W.2d 923, 926 (Tenn. 1995)). "Legislative intent is determined 'from the natural and ordinary meaning of the statutory language within the context of the entire statute without any forced or subtle construction that would extend or limit the statute's meaning.'" Osborn v. Marr, 127 S.W.3d 737, 740 (Tenn. 2004) (quoting State v. Flemming, 19 S.W.3d 195, 197 (Tenn. 2000)). "When the statutory language is clear and unambiguous, we apply the plain language in its normal and accepted use." Boarman v. Jaynes, 109 S.W.3d 286, 291 (Tenn. 2003) (citing State v. Nelson, 23 S.W.3d 270, 271 (Tenn. 2000)). "It is only when a statute is ambiguous that we may reference the broader statutory scheme, the history of the legislation, or other sources." In re Estate of Davis, 308 S.W.3d 832, 837 (Tenn. 2010) (citing Parks v. Tenn. Mun. League Risk Mgmt. Pool, 974 S.W.2d 677, 679 (Tenn. 1998)).

         Code section 40-32-101 permits those persons convicted of certain offenses and sentenced to a term of less than three years to petition for expunction of the records of those convictions upon meeting certain requirements. See T.C.A. § 40-32-101(g)(1)(A), (B). The statute lists simple possession as a conviction eligible for expunction, see id. § 40-32-101(g)(1)(A)(xxxv), but specifically "exclude[s] from consideration" for expunction a conviction of DUI, see id. § 40-32-101(g)(1)(B)(xlv). Consideration for expunction is generally limited to those who have "never been convicted of any criminal offense, including federal offenses and offenses in other states, other than the offense committed for which the petition for expunction is filed, " see id. § 40-32-101(g)(2)(A), with one very narrow exception:

A person who was convicted of more than one (1) of the offenses listed in this subdivision (g)(1), if the conduct upon which each conviction is based occurred contemporaneously, occurred at the same location, represented a single continuous criminal episode with a single criminal intent, and all such convictions are eligible for expunction under this part. The offenses of a person who is an eligible petitioner under this subdivision (g)(1)(E) shall be considered a single offense for the ...

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