Washington County District Court File Nos. 82-K2-88-4872, 82-K9-93-004799
Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Pete Orput, Washington County Attorney, Richard D. Hodsdon, Assistant County Attorney, Stillwater, Minnesota (for respondent)
J. J. H., Cottage Grove, Minnesota (pro se appellant)
Considered and decided by Cleary, Presiding Judge; Johnson, Chief Judge; and Hooten, Judge.
Appellant challenges the district court's denial of his petitions to expunge criminal records of his convictions of driving while impaired (DWI) and refusal to submit to a chemical test. We reverse and remand for findings.
In May 1989, appellant J. J. H. pleaded guilty to gross misdemeanor DWI within five years of a prior DWI conviction, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 169.121, subd. 3(a) (1988). In June 1994, appellant pleaded guilty to gross misdemeanor refusal to submit to a chemical test, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 169.121, subd. 1a (1992).
In March 2012, appellant filed two petitions for expungement, requesting that the district court expunge his convictions pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 609A.03 (2010) or the court's inherent authority. Appellant claimed that he had gone to "40 interviews and appl[ied] for hundreds of jobs, " but was unable to pass criminal background checks or secure employment because of his criminal record. He stated that he had been rehabilitated through treatment, had earned an Associate's Degree, and had become a responsible home owner. The state opposed expungement.
Following a hearing, the district court denied the petitions. The court stated that "[n]o statutory authority exists which would entitle [appellant] to an expungement or sealing of his records of convictions or his underlying driving records." The court held that "[t]here is not clear and convincing evidence that sealing the record would yield a benefit to [appellant] 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." This appeal follows.
Courts have both statutory and inherent authority to expunge criminal records. State v. Ambaye, 616 N.W.2d 256, 257 (Minn. 2000); see also Minn. Stat. §§ 609A.01- .03 (2012) (explaining the statutory process for expungement of criminal records). Under Minn. Stat. § 609A.02, expungement pursuant to statute is available if certain controlled-substance charges have been dismissed, if a juvenile who was prosecuted as an adult has been discharged by the Commissioner of Corrections or probation, and if criminal proceedings were resolved in the petitioner's favor and did not result in conviction. None of the statutory grounds for expungement exist in this case.
Separate from this statutory authority, a court has the inherent power to expunge criminal records if "the petitioner's constitutional rights may be seriously infringed by retention of his records" or if "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 ...