The PA Superior Court recently decided the case of Commonwealth v. Rainey, No. 1601 EDA 2015 (May 25, 2016), holding that even though a federal Court found that there was insufficient evidence to support Rainey’s conviction for first degree murder, he was not entitled to an expungement of his criminal history information regarding that offense because he was still incarcerated for that offense due to the fact that he failed to show that he would not have otherwise been convicted of second degree murder, which carried the same penalty.


On June 1, 1994, Rainey and three co-conspirators robbed a jewelry store. During the commission of the robbery, the gunman, Riley, shot and killed storeowner, Kang, in front of Kang’s wife. Following a two-week trial, the jury convicted Rainey of one count of first degree murder, two counts of robbery, one count of aggravated assault, one count of recklessly endangering another person, one count of criminal conspiracy, one count of possessing instruments of crime, and one count of carrying firearms on public streets or public property. After the jury deadlocked during the penalty stage, the Court imposed a mandatory term of life imprisonment.

Rainey filed a timely petition under the Pennsylvania Post Conviction Relief Act (“PCRA”), which was denied. He timely filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to federal law in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Rainey’s case was referred to a Magistrate Judge, who issued a Report and Recommendation concluding that Rainey was entitled to habeas relief based on his layered ineffectiveness claim. Specifically, the Magistrate Judge concluded that (1) the evidence at trial was insufficient to establish a shared intent to kill, (2) Rainey’s trial and appellate counsel rendered deficient performance in failing to raise the sufficiency claim; and (3) this deficient performance prejudiced Rainey.

The District Court approved and adopted the Report and Recommendation in part, rejected it in part, denied the petition, and declined to issue a certificate of appealability. Specifically, the federal District Court determined that the evidence was insufficient, as a matter of law, to sustain Rainey’s conviction for first degree murder. However, the District Court refused to grant Rainey habeas relief because he failed to establish prejudice, i.e., he failed to show that the outcome of the proceedings would have been different.

The Court of Appeals affirmed on the basis that Rainey failed to show prejudice. Specifically, the Court of Appeals found that – even assuming the evidence was insufficient to prove that Rainey shared the specific intent to kill Mr. Kang, as required for a first degree murder conviction – the facts were unquestionably sufficient to prove second degree murder, which carried the same sentence.

Accordingly, the federal Court of Appeals found that Rainey was not entitled to federal habeas relief.


Did the trial court abuse its discretion in denying Rainey’s petition for expungement when, as Rainey claims, he was “acquitted” of first degree murder as a result of the federal habeas proceedings.


The Superior Court held that, in no way, can the Court of Appeals’ disposition of Rainey’s habeas petition be construed as a formal “acquittal.” Therefore, it determined that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Rainey’s petition for expungement of his first degree murder conviction.


First, Rainey is currently incarcerated, serving a life sentence for murder. Therefore, he cannot petition for expungement. This is due to a 2014 decision of the PA Supreme Court which held that, after balancing the interests of the individual against the Commonwealth, an inmate does not have the right to petition for expungement while incarcerated.

Additionally, the Superior Court also disagreed with Rainey’s claim that he was “acquitted” of the first degree murder conviction.

In this case, the jury found Rainey guilty of first degree murder and did not consider lesser degrees of murder, including second degree murder. Therefore, the Superior Court found that expunging Rainey’s first degree murder conviction would leave nothing on the record to show that he is actually serving a valid life sentence, which the federal courts have determined should not be disturbed. In other words, the evidence was sufficient to prove second degree murder and, since the jury did not consider lesser degrees of murder, double jeopardy principles would not prohibit Rainey’s re-trial on second degree murder.

Therefore, according to both the trial court and the Superior Court, granting Rainey’s expungement request under these circumstances would be “wildly misleading and unfair.”

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