This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
City of Maple Grove,
Lyle Archie Mosher,
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 94028398
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103; and
Paul D. Baertschi, Tallen & Baertschi, 4640 IDS Center, 80 South 8th Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for appellant)
Stephen J. Beseres, 4124 Quebec Avenue North, Suite 303, New Hope, MN 55427 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge, Randall, Judge, and Holtan, Judge.*
The City of Maple Grove appeals from a district court order granting respondent Lyle Archie Mosher’s petition for expungement of his criminal records, specifically challenging the order as it applies to records held by the Maple Grove police department. We affirm.
Respondent was involved in a physical altercation with his wife resulting in a charge of fifth-degree domestic assault. Respondent entered a plea of guilty on May 12, 1994, pursuant to a plea agreement that reduced the charge to a misdemeanor. According to respondent, the sentencing court stated that pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 609.135 (1994), respondent’s plea and conviction would be vacated and dismissed if there were no same or similar charges during the two-year probationary period. The plea was subsequently vacated and dismissed on May 10, 1996, following respondent’s successful completion of probation.
In December 1999, respondent brought a petition to expunge his criminal record. Following the filing of the petition for expungement, appellant, by letter brief, objected to the expungement, and specifically objected to the expungement of law enforcement records. A hearing occurred on March 14, 2000. Appellant made no appearance at the expungement hearing, relying solely on its written submission. The district court ordered that respondent’s criminal record be sealed and not revealed and granted respondent’s petition for expungement. Following the issuance of the order, appellant wrote a letter to the district court requesting reconsideration of its decision, again objecting to the expungement, and specifically objecting to any expungement of police records. Respondent countered by submitting his own letter to the district court in support of its order. On April 5, 2000, the district court issued an order denying appellant’s motion for reconsideration. This appeal follows.
D E C I S I O N
Expungement is an extraordinary form of relief. Barlow v. Commissioner of Pub. Safety, 365 N.W.2d 232, 233 (Minn. 1985). Courts must exercise their authority with caution so as to respect the power of the executive and legislative branches over their constitutionally authorized functions. State v. C.A., 304 N.W.2d 353, 358-59 (Minn. 1981). But district courts do have statutory and inherent powers to grant expungement relief. Id. at 357.
I. Statutory Authority
Appellant challenges the district court’s conclusion that it had the statutory authority to grant respondent’s motion for expungement. Whether a statute has been properly construed is a question of law subject to de novo review. State v. Murphy, 545 N.W.2d 909, 914 (Minn. 1996).
Minnesota’s law regarding the expungement of criminal records is found in Minn. Stat. ch. 609A (1998). Under that chapter, criminal records may not be destroyed or returned to the petitioner, but rather are sealed and may not be disclosed or opened without court order. Minn. Stat. § 609A.01. The district court will entertain a petition for expungement if (1) the records are not subject to Minn. Stat. § 299C.11(b) (1998), and (2) all actions and proceedings were resolved in petitioner’s favor. Minn. Stat. § 609A.02, subd. 3.
Minn. Stat. § 299C.11 (1998) governs criminal identification data furnished by local law enforcement agencies to the state bureau of criminal apprehension. Minn. Stat. § 299C.11(a). Section 299C.11(b) governs the circumstances under which no chapter 609A petition is required and records are actually returned to the arrested person on demand.
Respondent does not claim entitlement to forgo chapter 609A proceedings and to obtain the actual return of the records on demand. Rather, he is seeking only a 609A expungement. Therefore, Minn. Stat. § 299C.11(b) does not apply to respondent. It follows then that respondent has met the first requirement of Minn. Stat. § 609A.02, subd. 3.
The second requirement is that the proceedings be resolved in the petitioner’s favor. Id. Here, the district court did not have the benefit of State v. Ambaye, __ N.W.2d __ (Minn. June 29, 2000), a recent decision by our supreme court that construes the expungement statute for the first time. Finding that Minn. Stat. § 299C.11 contains “nearly identical ‘in favor of’ language” to Minn. Stat. § 609A.02, the supreme court concluded that “‘in favor of’ under section 299C.11 * * * does not include resolutions where the defendant pleaded guilty” for purposes of expungement under Minn. Stat. § 609A.02. Ambaye, __ N.W.2d at __, No. C9‑98‑2221, slip op. at 5-6; see also City of St. Paul v. Froysland, 310 Minn. 268, 276, 246 N.W.2d 435, 439 (1976) (holding that a dismissal of charges after a stay of imposition of sentence is not a determination in favor of accused); State v. M.B.M., 518 N.W.2d 880, 883 (Minn. App. 1994) (dismissal of the complaint after pleading guilty was “in the nature of a pardon, not a declaration of innocence” and not a determination in favor of accused) (citation omitted); State v. L.K., 359 N.W.2d 305, 307-08 (Minn. App. 1984) (finding that where defendant did not plead or admit guilt and the charge was not prosecuted, innocence was presumed and the court’s dismissal of the charges “constitutes a determination in his favor”). The district court did not have statutory authority to grant expungement in this case.
II. Inherent Authority
A district court has the inherent authority to control the performance of judicial functions that extends to the issuance of expungement orders affecting court records and agents of the court. C.A., 304 N.W.2d at 358. Where, as here, a constitutional right is not involved, the district court must determine whether the benefit of an expungement to the petitioner is commensurate with (1) the harm to the public caused by eliminating the record; and (2) the administrative burden on the court in issuing, enforcing, and monitoring the order. Id.
We review the district court’s decision to grant expungement under an abuse-of-discretion standard. M.B.M., 518 N.W.2d at 883; see also Krmpotich v. City of Duluth, 483 N.W.2d 55, 57 (Minn. 1992) (holding “where the trial court weighs the equities in a balancing test ‘analogous to the one traditionally employed by courts of equity,’ the appropriate standard of review is the abuse of discretion standard.”) (citation omitted).
In granting respondent’s petition, the district court concluded that his guilty plea was induced by appellant’s promise that his criminal record would not reflect the incident, if certain conditions were fulfilled. Appellant argues that it never agreed to the expungement of respondent’s records in exchange for the plea. But respondent gave uncontroverted testimony at the expungement hearing that, in agreeing to the plea, he relied upon representations that after the period of stay expired, the plea would be vacated and there would be nothing further on his record. “Expungement means to erase all evidence of the event as if it never occurred.” M.B.M., 518 N.W.2d at 882 (quotation omitted).
Appellant chose not to appear at the hearing, relying solely upon its written submission. The district court concluded that a promise had been made which induced the plea on the part of respondent. In the memorandum accompanying its denial of appellant’s motion for reconsideration, the district court found that respondent “was told that he would have no criminal record of this incident if he accepted the vacate and dismiss offer.” Assessments of witness credibility are “peculiarly within the province of the factfinder.” In re Friedenson, 574 N.W.2d 463, 466 (Minn. App. 1998) (citation omitted), review denied (Minn. Apr. 30, 1998). The United States Supreme Court has analogized plea agreements to contracts, holding that
when a plea rests in any significant degree on a promise or agreement of the prosecutor, so that it can be said to be part of the inducement or consideration, such promise must be fulfilled.
State v. Spaeth, 552 N.W.2d 187, 194 (Minn. 1996) (quoting Santobello v. New York, 404 U.S. 257, 262, 92 S. Ct. 495, 499 (1971)). We agree.
In its February 29, 2000 letter brief, appellant correctly set out the standard for the court’s inherent authority to grant expungement; i.e., that the expungement yield a benefit to the defendant that outweighs the disadvantage to the public and burden on the court. C.A., 304 N.W.2d at 358. But appellant has offered nothing that would establish any disadvantage to the public or burden on the court other than that which is present in any expungement order. In short, appellant has no compelling interest here in preventing this expungement. The district court was made cognizant of the balancing test in C.A., and, in the interests of judicial economy, we will presume that the district court concluded that the benefits outweighed any disadvantages or burdens.
It follows then that the result of the district court’s order is correct, even though the order may have been based upon the wrong theory. This court will not “reverse on appeal a correct decision simply because it is based on incorrect reasons.” Kahn v. State, 289 N.W.2d 737, 745 (Minn. 1980).
III. Expungement of Executive Branch Records
Finally, appellant argues that any expungement of respondent’s records should not apply to records held by the executive branch, namely the Maple Grove police department. Appellant bases its argument on the recent decision by this court in State v. T.M.B., 590 N.W.2d 809 (Minn. App. 1999). In T.M.B., we denied a petition to expunge criminal records maintained by executive branch agencies under the doctrine of separation of powers. Id. at 812. As discussed, the district court found respondent’s testimony that he was promised that he would have no criminal record by the prosecutor to be credible. This was a promise made by an official of the executive branch in the person of the prosecutor. See State v. Johnson, 514 N.W.2d 551, 556 (Minn. 1994) (holding that a prosecutor is a member of the executive branch); State v. Olson, 325 N.W.2d 13, 19 (Minn. 1982) (same). Therefore, the separation of powers problem identified in T.M.B. does not exist in this case.
* Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.