STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Filed June 20, 2006
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 01075836
Steven M. Tallen, 4560 IDS Center,
Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge; Dietzen, Judge; and Harten, Judge.*
S Y L L A B U S
1. Expungement of court records under the district court’s inherent authority requires a determination of either (a) a constitutional infringement or (b) that the benefits to the petitioner of expungement are commensurate with the disadvantages to the public and the courts.
2. The balancing test of comparing the benefits to the petitioner of expungement with the disadvantages to the public and the courts requires that the district court make findings or state on the record its determination regarding (a) the extent that a petitioner has demonstrated difficulties in securing employment or housing as a result of the records sought to be expunged, (b) the seriousness and nature of the offense on record, (c) the potential risk that the petitioner poses and how this affects the public’s right to access petitioner’s records, (d) any additional offenses or rehabilitative efforts since the offense on record, and (e) any other objective evidence of hardship under the circumstances.
O P I N I O N
Appellant challenges the district court order and judgment granting respondent’s expungement petition, arguing that the district court abused its discretion by expunging court and executive-branch records. Because the district court’s finding of infringement of respondent’s constitutional rights is clearly erroneous, and the district court failed to find that the benefits of expungement to respondent are commensurate with the disadvantages to the public, we conclude that the district court abused its discretion by exercising its inherent authority to expunge and, therefore, we reverse.
In September 2001, appellant State of Minnesota charged respondent H.A. with interference with privacy in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.746, after he allegedly peered under changing room walls at a 13-year-old girl while she tried on clothes at a mall department store.
Respondent entered an Alford plea to the charge under an agreement staying the imposition of his sentence, on the conditions that respondent commit no similar offenses, complete a sex offender assessment, and either pay a fine or perform community service. Respondent met these conditions, and the guilty plea was vacated and the charge dismissed.
Respondent then filed a petition for expungement of records pertaining to the interference with privacy offense, stating, “I can’t find a job because [of] my records. I need to pay my home’s mortgage. I’m disable[d].” The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) did not oppose respondent’s petition. Appellant opposed the petition, arguing that respondent did not meet the statutory requirements for expungement and that there was no basis to expunge the records under the court’s inherent authority.
At the expungement hearing, respondent testified that he sought expungement because he had applied for a position in airport security and feared that his record would adversely affect his employability. Following the hearing, the district court found that
[t]here is arguably an infringement of [respondent’s] constitutional rights. A part of the plea negotiation was that the case would be dismissed upon successful completion of the Stay of Imposition. At the time of the plea, the plea negotiation was understood to include cleaning up the [respondent’s] record after the period of the stay of imposition had elapsed.
district court concluded that it did not have statutory authority to expunge
respondent’s records, but had authority under its inherent powers; and it granted
expungement of court records and records of the BCA, other law enforcement
agencies, and the city, county, and attorney general’s offices. This appeal followed.
I. Did the district court abuse its discretion by granting expungement of respondent’s court records under its inherent powers?
II. Did the district court abuse its discretion by granting expungement of respondent’s executive-branch records under its inherent powers?
raises two issues on appeal. First,
appellant argues that the district court lacked inherent authority to expunge
respondent’s court records. Although respondent did not file a
brief, the appeal is decided on the merits.
district court’s exercise of its inherent power to expunge is a matter of
equity, which this court reviews under an abuse-of-discretion standard. State
v. Ambaye, 616 N.W.2d 256, 261 (
A district court’s inherent authority to issue expungement orders affecting court records is limited to: (1) when the petitioner’s constitutional rights may be seriously infringed by retention of petitioner’s records; and (2) when a petitioner’s constitutional rights are not involved, but the court determines that “expungement will yield a benefit to the petitioner commensurate with the disadvantages to the public from the elimination of the record and the burden on the court in issuing, enforcing and monitoring an expungement order.” Ambaye, 616 N.W.2d at 258 (quotation omitted).
Here, the record provided on appeal does not contain any evidence that future expungement was a condition of the plea agreement, nor does it indicate any other factual basis for a finding of constitutional infringement. The conditions of the plea agreement, which did not include expungement, were stated on the record at the guilty-plea hearing. Further, respondent did not argue that a promise of expungement was made under the plea agreement, or assert any other constitutional infringement as a basis for expungement. Consequently, the district court’s finding of a constitutional infringement is contrary to the record and, therefore, clearly erroneous.
The second ground for
expungement under the court’s inherent authority is a determination that
respondent’s benefits from expungement are commensurate with the disadvantages
to the public and the court. Two recent
[T]he court stated that the benefit respondent stood to gain from expungement, if granted, would override the very purpose of the background check. Employers, sometimes pursuant to law and sometimes voluntarily, have required background checks in order to “assess any potential risk involved with hiring certain individuals.” Further, the district court reasoned that the public had a “compelling interest in maintaining [respondent’s] record of violence, particularly because the underlying offense [respondent] was charged with was murder in the first degree.” Finally, the district court noted that respondent is “currently gainfully employed, thus his [criminal record] is not preventing him from obtaining employment.”
616 N.W.2d at 261. In Schultz, this court held that the benefits to petitioner were commensurate with the disadvantages to the public and the burden on the court when the record indicated that petitioner had controlled his mental-health issues, undergone “extensive rehabilitation efforts,” not been involved in any criminal incidents since the offense on record, and “has had difficulty overcoming his employment and housing problems.” 676 N.W.2d at 341.
Thus, the factors
to be considered by the district court are: (a) the extent that a petitioner
has demonstrated difficulties in securing employment or housing as a result of
the records sought to be expunged; (b) the seriousness and nature of the
offense; (c) the potential risk that the petitioner poses and how this affects
the public’s right to access the records; (d) any additional offenses or
rehabilitative efforts since the offense, and (e) other objective evidence
of hardship under the circumstances. Ambaye, 616 N.W.2d at 261 (seriousness
and risk); Schultz, 676 N.W.2d at 341
(difficulties with employment and housing, nature of the offense, subsequent
offenses and rehabilitative efforts).
While we appreciate the informality of expungement proceedings, we are
unable to review whether a grant or denial of expungement constitutes an abuse
of discretion unless the district court makes findings or determinations on the
record regarding these factors. See, e.g., Crowley Co. v. Metro. Airports
Comm’n, 394 N.W.2d 542, 545 (
The first factor requires that the petitioner demonstrate difficulties in securing employment or housing as a result of the criminal records. Here, the district court found that “[t]he benefits to [appellant] of receiving an expungement are to find employment.” But while it is true that respondent sought expungement in order to secure employment, respondent did not indicate a history of unsuccessful employment attempts. Instead, respondent appeared to be seeking expungement in order to obtain a specific position with airport security. And because respondent owns his own home, housing is not an issue. Thus, this factor does not weigh in favor of expungement.
The second factor considers
the nature and severity of the offense on record. Although the district court did not address
this factor, the record indicates that respondent’s interference-with-privacy
offense was committed against a 13-year-old girl. And the legislature recently increased the
degree of severity of this offense from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor
for a first-time offense, and from a gross misdemeanor to a felony for a
second-time offense, signifying its intent to treat this offense more
seriously, particularly in regard to repeat offenders.
The third factor compares a petitioner’s potential risk to the public’s right to access the records. The district court found that “[t]here is a strong public interest in maintaining accurate public records. The disadvantages to the public of expungement are that the criminal justice system will have inaccurate files about offenders and prosecutors and courts will not know whether or not a defendant is a first time offender.”
and prosecutorial access to records is particularly important where, as here,
the offense is sexual in nature and therefore prone to recidivism. See,
e.g., In re C.M., 578 N.W.2d 391, 394 (
The fourth factor considers any additional offenses or rehabilitative efforts since the offense on record. The district court stated in its findings that “[t]he City further argues that this offense is similar to one for which [respondent] is currently on probation and as such this case along with the other case, works to establish a pattern of behavior.” A subsequent repeat offense would weigh heavily against expungement, but it is unclear from the record whether there is a factual basis for this finding. The record does not indicate any rehabilitative efforts on respondent’s part. Thus, this factor does not support expungement.
Because the record does not establish the existence of any constitutional infringement, and the demonstrated benefit to respondent is not commensurate with the disadvantages to the public, the district court abused its discretion by granting expungement of respondent’s court records.
Second, appellant argues that the district court’s inherent authority to expunge judicial records does not extend to records maintained by executive agencies, and therefore, the district court erred by ordering expungement of executive-branch records of the BCA, other law enforcement agencies, and the city, county, and attorney general’s offices.
Supreme Court has stated that the inherent authority of courts to control the
performance of judicial functions extends to expungement orders affecting court
records. State v.
The supreme court
later applied the “judicial-function” standard to the district court’s decision
to expunge the records of a petitioner seeking expungement of police and
prosecutorial records after the petitioner was arrested for rape but never
charged, concluding that expungement was not necessary to protect a “unique
judicial function” because the courts cannot generally control “how prosecutors
run their offices or how police departments investigate crimes[,]” andtherefore the judiciary had no
legitimate interest in expunging or sealing such records. In re Quinn,
517 N.W.2d 895, 900 (
Expungement becomes essential to the performance of the courts’ fundamental function of protecting legal rights only when a petitioner’s rights have been violated. Thus, absent evidence that executive agents abused their discretion in the performance of a governmental function, the judiciary may not interfere with the executive’s record-keeping function by ordering the expungement of its records.
State v. T.M.B., 590 N.W.2d 809, 812 (Minn. App. 1999), review denied (Minn. June 16, 1999). And in State v. Schultz,this court again held that, absent evidence of injustice resulting from an executive agent’s abuse of discretion, the district court oversteps its inherent authority when it orders the executive branch to seal records. 676 N.W.2d at 343-44.
Because the record does not contain evidence that any executive agents abused their discretion, the district court lacked inherent authority to order expungement of respondent’s executive-branch records.
D E C I S I O N
Because the district court’s finding of infringement of respondent’s constitutional rights is clearly erroneous, and the district court failed to find that the benefits of expungement to respondent are commensurate with the disadvantages to the public, we conclude that the district court abused its discretion by expunging respondent’s court and executive-branch records under its inherent authority and, therefore, we reverse.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.
 District courts have both statutory and
inherent powers to grant expungement relief.
State v. Davisson, 624 N.W.2d
292, 295 (