This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).






State of Minnesota,




Filed May 29, 2007


Collins, Judge*


Washington County District Court

File No. K3-04-000387


O.L.I.S., 767 Victoria Street, Apartment 204, St. Paul, MN  55104 (pro se respondent)


Douglas H. Johnson, Washington County Attorney, Richard D. Hodsdon, Assistant County Attorney, 14949 62nd Street North, P.O. Box 6, Stillwater, MN  55082 (for appellant)


            Considered and decided by Worke, Presiding Judge; Lansing, Judge; and Collins, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            The state appeals from the district court’s order granting respondent’s petition to expunge his criminal records, arguing that the district court lacked both statutory and inherent authority to expunge executive-branch records.[1]  To the extent that the order expunges records of executive-branch agencies, we reverse.


            In June 2004 the district court accepted respondent’s admission and plea of guilty to disorderly conduct, stayed adjudication, and placed respondent on supervised probation for one year with the conditions that he complete an anger management program and remain law-abiding.

            In March 2006, having completed the conditions and being discharged from probation, respondent petitioned the district court for expungement of his criminal record.  In the petition, respondent stated,

            I am seeking expungement because . . . [I] can’t find employment.  I made a mistake and I truly regret it ever happened.  This is the one instance in my life when I broke the law and it will never happen again.  I want to be a productive member of society and an expungement will allow me to be one. 


            The Washington County Sheriff’s office answered and opposed the petition, arguing in a written memorandum that the district court lacked statutory authority to expunge the records because respondent pleaded guilty and was sentenced, and therefore the matter was not resolved in favor of respondent; and that the district court lacked inherent authority to order expungement of executive-branch records as a matter of law.  The Minnesota Department of Human Services, the Minnesota Department of Health, and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension also submitted letters in opposition to the expungement.

            At the hearing on June 1, 2006, respondent presented the petition pro se.  The city attorney did not oppose the petition, agreeing with the district court’s stated view that the case “was resolved in [respondent’s] favor because it was dismissed.”  The district court entered the order sealing all official records relating to respondent’s disorderly conduct conviction held by the district court, the Washington County Sheriff, the Cottage Grove Police Department, and the county attorney, as well as the public records of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.  The state’s appeal followed. 


            This court reviews the district court’s decision granting or denying an expungement petition under an abuse-of-discretion standard.  State v. Davisson, 624 N.W.2d 292, 296 (Minn. App. 2001), review denied (Minn. May 15, 2001).  There are two legal bases for the expungement of criminal records:  Minnesota Statutes chapter 609A and a court’s inherent expungement power.  State v. Ambaye, 616 N.W.2d 256, 257 (Minn. 2000). 

A.          Statutory Authority to Expunge Criminal Records

            Under Minn. Stat. § 609A.02, subd. 3 (2006), the district court may expunge criminal records “if the proceedings were resolved in favor of the person petitioning for expungement.”  State v. J.Y.M., 711 N.W.2d 139, 141 (Minn. App. 2006). “[W]hether the resolution was in favor of the petitioner turns on whether there has been an admission or a finding of guilt.”  State v. C.P.H., 707 N.W.2d 699, 703 (Minn. App. 2006).  Whether proceedings were resolved in a petitioner’s favor is a question of law reviewed de novo.  Davisson, 624 N.W.2d at 295.  The state argues that the district court lacked statutory authority to expunge respondent’s records because a stay of adjudication and dismissal is not a resolution in respondent’s favor due to his admission of guilt.  We agree. 

            In Davisson, this court reiterated that when there was a plea or finding of guilty, even if a stay of adjudication and dismissal eventually result, there has not been a resolution in favor of the petitioner within the meaning of Minn. Stat. § 609A.02, subd. 3. Id. at 295-96.  In the order granting respondent’s petition, the district court noted, “Proceedings were resolved in [respondent’s] favor [with] the charge being dismissed after a stay of adjudication.”  But that misconstrues the law.  Apparently, the city attorney was also under the misapprehension that dismissal following an admission of guilt and stay of adjudication equates to a resolution in favor of respondent.  It is undisputed that (a) respondent admitted the essential facts and pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct; (b) the district court accepted the plea but withheld entry of a judgment of conviction; and (c) the charge was dismissed following respondent’s successful completion of probation.  However, because of his admission and guilty plea, the proceedings were not resolved in favor of respondent within the meaning of Minn. Stat. § 609A.02, subd. 3.  Consequently, the district court abused its discretion by ordering expungement of respondent’s records under its statutory authority. 

B.         Inherent Authority to Expunge Criminal Records

            As a preliminary matter, the state concedes and we agree that the district court acted within its inherent power in ordering the expungement of district court records.  The district court has inherent authority to expunge its own records in two situations: when the petitioner’s constitutional rights may be seriously infringed by not expunging the record and when “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, there was no stated constitutional basis for exercising the court’s inherent authority to expunge.  The district court did, however, conclude that expungement was appropriate under the second ground.  The district court 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.”   Therefore, we interpret this finding by the district court to support the sealing of district court records and, to that extent, the order is not disturbed.

            The state argues that the district court’s inherent authority to expunge criminal records does not extend to executive-branch records in this case because there is no evidence in the record of an abuse of discretion by executive agents.  We agree.

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); see also State v. Schultz, 676 N.W.2d 337, 343-44 (Minn. App. 2004) (holding that absent evidence of injustice resulting from executive agent’s abuse of discretion, district court oversteps its inherent authority when it orders executive branch to seal records). 

            In State v. L.W.J., 717 N.W.2d 451, 457 (Minn. App. 2006), we determined that because the record did not contain any evidence that executive agents abused their discretion, the district court lacked inherent authority to order expungement of executive-branch records.  Because the record in this case likewise does not contain any evidence that respondent’s rights were violated or that any executive agents abused their discretion, the district court lacked inherent authority to order expungement of the executive-branch records.

            Accordingly, without affecting the order as it pertains to district-court records, we reverse the expungement of executive-branch records. 


*   Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.

[1] The order applies to records held by the district court as well as enumerated executive-branch agencies.  The state’s appeal is expressly limited “to the extent [the district court’s order] expunges records of the executive branch of government.”