Police Chief Should Not Have Been Decertified For Expunged Conviction

Carl Hendricks pled guilty to one count of felony theft in 1996, and was placed on probation. In 1998, a court ordered his arrest and guilty plea expunged from his record pursuant to Tennessee law.

In 2000, Hendricks applied to the Galloway, Tennessee Police Department to work as a reserve officer. He completed the application form, checking “No” in the space beside the specific question, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor within the last five years?” Hendricks eventually transitioned to a full-time job, and later became the Police Chief of the Piperton, Tennessee Police Department.

In 2006, a background check revealed that Hendricks had been convicted of theft in 1996. Tennessee’s Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission revoked Hendricks’ law enforcement certificate because of his guilty plea. Hendricks challenged the Commission’s decision in court.

A trial court upheld Hendricks’ challenge. The Court found that “if the crux of the dispute had been the facts of the underlying theft case, rather than Hendricks’ legal status, Hendricks might have been able to mount a more vigorous defense. However, Hendricks’ case was not properly before the Commission in the first place, because the expungement erased from his record the legal fact of his guilty plea. His disqualification is dependent entirely upon the existence of the guilty plea as a legally operative fact. As declared by the Tennessee Court of Appeals, an expunged guilty plea under the judicial diversion statute, is not a legally operative fact. The plea can be used for evidence of underlying facts, but it cannot, by itself, be used as a reason for legal disqualification, as it was here.”

Carl Hendricks v. Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission, #07-1518-II (Tenn. Chanc. Ct. 2008).

NOTE: David Raybin, an attorney in Nashville, represented Hendricks in the lawsuit. Thanks to Mr. Raybin for providing us with a copy of the opinion in the case.

This article appears in the September 2008 issue