Everyone makes mistakes. Some of those mistakes are more serious than others. And some of those mistakes may even result in criminal convictions. But once you’ve moved past the mistakes, they don’t necessarily have to be a negative part of your background forever. With today’s internet and computer databases it’s almost too easy for potential employers and landlords to see any mistakes you’ve made in the past. Minnesota law provides for the expungement of criminal records in some circumstances. The term “expungement” refers to the sealing, destruction, or return of the records. It depends on the exact situation which type of expungement is applicable.
Under Minnesota law, arrest records, including fingerprints and photographs, are maintained by law enforcement agencies. If an arrest is followed by a criminal prosecution which ends at an early stage, either before a probable cause determination or before the prosecutor files charges, AND the person who was arrested has not been convicted of a felony or gross misdemeanor in the ten years prior to the arrest, the arrest record can be returned to the person arrested.
If you were the person arrested, you can seek return of your records either by sending a petition directly to the law enforcement agency or by asking a court to order return of the records as part of an expungement proceeding.
Records of proceedings going beyond just arrest
What if you were arrested and your case went farther than would allow you to be eligible for return of your records as described above? In some cases, you may still be able to petition a court to seal the records. This includes situations such as where a person is convicted of unlawful possession of a controlled substance but charges are dismissed after the person completes probation, where a juvenile is charged and convicted as an adult but successfully completes probation, or where a person is acquitted after a trial.
A sealed record doesn’t give you quite the same benefits that a returned record would: a sealed record can still be opened in very limited circumstances. For example, if you later apply for employment with a criminal justice agency, the record can be opened even without a court order. Or, if you are later convicted of another crime, the court might order the record opened to aid in determining a sentence for that later conviction.
Expungement based on inherent court power
Even if your record can’t be expunged based on one of the listed situations in Minnesota statute, a court may still be able to expunge the record based on the court’s inherent power. This is an infrequently-used remedy but is available where maintaining the record would seriously infringe the subject’s constitutional rights, or where the benefit of the expungement greatly outweighs the disadvantages of it. Keep in mind, though, that certain types of serious offenses, like murder and sex offender crimes, will not be expunged.
So, if you have been convicted of a crime, don’t despair, get on with your life, do whatever probation tells you to and you may be able to, at least partially, erase your past.
Kohlmeyer Hagen, Law Office