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State v. Schultz

March 30, 2004

STATE OF MINNESOTA, APPELLANT,
v.
STEPHEN MATTHEW SCHULTZ, RESPONDENT.



Hennepin County District Court File No. 96062367

Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge, Halbrooks, Judge, and Huspeni, Judge.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. A district court has broad discretion to expunge judicial records if such expungement reduces or eliminates unfairness to an aggrieved party.

2. When an aggrieved party's constitutional rights are not infringed, the district court's inherent authority to order expungement shall not extend to non-judicial records retained by the executive branch.

3. Because executive agencies party to an expungement action share not only interwoven but identical interests, a reversal in favor of an appealing agency may also extend to non-appealing agencies.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Huspeni, Judge*fn1

Affirmed in part and reversed in part

OPINION

In challenging an order granting respondent's petition for expungement of his felony assault conviction records, appellant argues that the district court abused its discretion in exercising its inherent authority to expunge. Alternatively, appellant argues that if any exercise of inherent authority was proper, such authority is limited to expungement of judicial records, and does not extend to records of the executive branch. Because the district court has broad discretion over all court records and agents of the court, we affirm its order to expunge all judicial records pertaining to respondent's conviction. Because the court's inherent authority to expunge is limited in cases not involving a petitioner's constitutional rights, we reverse the portion of the order sealing non-judicial records maintained by the executive branch. Since all executive agencies party to this action share identical interests, this reversal extends to both appealing and non-appealing executive agencies.

FACTS

On July 23, 1996, 18-year-old respondent Steven M. Schultz was arrested for second-degree assault, a felony under Minn. Stat. § 609.222 (1994). He pleaded guilty to that offense on March 4, 1997, after learning from counsel that his conviction could later be set aside upon good behavior pursuant to the "youthful offender" statute, codified at Minn. Stat. § 609.166 (1994). Unbeknownst to either Schultz or his attorney, however, the "youthful offender" statute had been repealed in the previous legislative session. 1996 Minn. Laws ch. 408, art. 9, § 10.

Schultz's prison sentence was stayed for three years subject to several conditions, including service of jail time. During this period, he enrolled in behavioral therapy, improved his vocational skills, and volunteered in his community. He was discharged from probation on March 6, 2000, and the felony was reduced to a misdemeanor.

Schultz subsequently petitioned for expungement of all data related to the offense, claiming that, though the count was ultimately reduced to a misdemeanor, any record check conducted on him would reveal that he had pleaded guilty to a felony. Thus, he asserted, he was unable to find gainful employment or adequate housing.

Both appellant City of Crystal ("the city")*fn2 and the State of Minnesota (state) objected to the expungement, arguing (1) the circumstances surrounding Shultz's conviction do not qualify him for expungement, and (2) the court's inherent power to expunge records does not extend to the executive branch.

The district court, in granting Schultz's petition and ordering all public records relating to the arrest, indictment, trial, and ...


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