IN COURT OF APPEALS
Filed July 18, 2006
Concurring specially, Harten, Judge*
Washington County District Court
File No. K2-02-2403
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 1800
Lloyd J. Moosbrugger, Neighborhood Justice Center, Inc.,
Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge; Dietzen, Judge; and Harten, Judge.
S Y L L A B U S
Minn. Stat. § 609A.03, subd. 5 (2004), does not set forth additional statutory grounds for expungement beyond those grounds set forth in Minn. Stat. § 609A.02 (2004 & Supp. 2005); it merely provides that once a petitioner establishes grounds for expungement under Minn. Stat. § 609A.02, subd. 3, the burden shifts to the agency or jurisdiction whose records will be affected by expungement to show by clear and convincing evidence that the interests of the public outweigh the disadvantages to the petitioner of not sealing the record.
O P I N I O N
Appellant challenges the district court’s order granting respondent’s petition to expunge her criminal records, arguing that the district court lacked both statutory authority to expunge court records and inherent authority to expunge executive-branch records. Because we conclude that the district court lacked statutory authority under Minn. Stat. § 609A.03 to expunge respondent’s court records and lacked inherent authority to expunge executive-branch records, we reverse.
In April 2002, appellant
Following successful completion of the sentencing conditions, respondent filed a petition to expunge the records of her theft conviction under Minn. Stat. § 609A.03 (2004). In the petition, respondent stated,
I am seeking expungement for employment purposes. I know I have made mistakes but I am older and wise and have learned from those mistakes. I am a single mother and have two children who deserve a better life. Providing for my children would be easier if I was employed. When I applied for jobs at the Minnesota Department of Human Services and Minnesota Department of Health, I was informed in writing that I am disqualified due to my criminal record.
Respondent indicated that, “I have gotten my G.E.D., a nice place for my children to live, and have completed training as a certified nurse assistant with the Red Cross and passed the state test. I am looking forward to starting at St. Paul Tech in the fall.”
Appellant opposed the petition to expunge, arguing that the district court lacked statutory authority to expunge the records because respondent pleaded guilty and was convicted of the offense and the matter was not therefore resolved “in favor” of respondent. Appellant also argued that the district court lacked inherent authority to expunge executive-branch records.
At the expungement hearing, respondent, through counsel, argued that she had difficulties obtaining employment, that she had rehabilitated herself through education and training, and that the benefits of expungement would therefore outweigh the disadvantages to the public and the court.
Following the hearing, the district court, citing Minn. Stat. § 609A.03, subd. 5(a) (2004), found by clear and convincing evidence that expungement would “yield a benefit to [respondent] commensurate with the disadvantages to the public and public safety of: (1) sealing the record; and (2) burdening the court and public authorities to issue, enforce, and monitor an expungement order.” The district court ordered expungement of all official records of respondent’s misdemeanor theft conviction, other than non-public Bureau of Criminal Apprehension records. This appeal followed.
I. Does the district court have statutory authority to expunge respondent’s criminal records?
II. Does the district court have inherent authority to expunge respondent’s executive-branch records?
raises two arguments on appeal. First, appellant argues that the
district court lacked statutory authority to grant respondent’s petition to
expunge because respondent’s guilty plea precluded a result “in favor” of
respondent as required by statute.
Although respondent did not file a brief, we decide the appeal on the
interpretation is a question of law, which this court reviews de novo. State
v. Stevenson, 656 N.W.2d 235, 238 (
courts have both statutory and inherent powers to grant expungement
The district court, nonetheless, concluded that Minn. Stat. § 609A.03, subd. 5(a) (2004), provided a separate statutory basis for expungement. Section 609A.03, subdivision 5(a), provides:
Except as otherwise provided by paragraph (b), expungement of a criminal record is an extraordinary remedy to be granted only upon clear and convincing evidence that it would yield a benefit to the petitioner commensurate with the disadvantages to the public and public safety of: (1) sealing the record; and (2) burdening the court and public authorities to issue, enforce, and monitor an expungement order.
(Emphasis added). Subdivision 5(b) provides that:
if the petitioner is petitioning for the sealing of a criminal record under section 609A.02, subdivision 3, the court shall grant the petition to seal the record unless the agency or jurisdiction whose records would be affected establishes by clear and convincing evidence that the interests of the public and public safety outweigh the disadvantages to the petitioner of not sealing the record.
two reasons, we conclude that subdivision 5 does not provide a separate
statutory ground for expungement. First,
section 609A.02, which is entitled, “Grounds for Order,” expressly sets forth
the three statutory grounds for expungement.
5 does not explicitly set forth additional statutory grounds for
expungement. And the “[e]xcept as otherwise
provided by paragraph (b)” language of subdivision 5(a) suggests that
subdivisions 5(a) and 5(b) are complementary and must be read together. See
In summary, a
petition for expungement may be filed under Minn. Stat. § 609A.02, subd. 3,
if all proceedings were resolved “in favor” of the petitioner. If this ground is met, then the burden shifts
to the agency or jurisdiction whose records would be affected by expungement to
prove by clear and convincing evidence that the interests of the public in
denying expungement outweigh the disadvantages to the petitioner.
district court also has inherent authority to expunge court records: (1) when the petitioner’s
constitutional rights may be seriously infringed by retention of petitioner’s records;
or (2) if constitutional rights are not involved, when the court finds
“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.” State
v. Ambaye, 616 N.W.2d 256, 258 (
Second, appellant argues that because the district court lacked inherent authority to expunge criminal records maintained by executive-branch agencies, it abused its discretion by ordering expungement of the records of law-enforcement agencies and the city, county, and state attorney’s offices.
It is well settled that
[e]xpungement 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 (June 16, 1999); see also State v. Schultz, 676 N.W.2d 337, 343-44 (Minn. App. 2004) (holding 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). Here, the record does not contain any evidence that executive agents abused their discretion; therefore, 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 lacked statutory authority to expunge respondent’s court records and inherent authority to expunge executive-branch records, we reverse.
HARTEN, Judge (concurring specially)
concur in all respects with the court’s opinion. I write separately to highlight a statutory
provision that requires attention for proper administration of the expungement
A petition may be filed under section 609A.03 to seal all records relating to an arrest, indictment or information . . . if all pending actions or proceedings were resolved in favor of the petitioner.
(Emphasis added). In order to file a petition, there must be a pre-filing showing that all pending actions or proceedings were resolved in favor of the petitioner. This requires some administrative oversight before a filing can be made and the jurisdiction of the court invoked. I point this out because this court has handled a number of appeals involving expungement petitions in which the proceedings sought to be expunged obviously were not resolved in favor of the petitioner. This results in a waste of judicial resources at both the trial and appellate level on cases that should never have been allowed to enter the system in the first place.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.