Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity & Expungement Eligibility in Minnesota


State v. Ambaye
Supreme Court of Minnesota
June 29, 2000

Holding: A defendant who is found not guilty by reason of insanity is not eligible for criminal record expungement under Chapter 609A.

Why This Case is Important: Minnesota provides two avenues for criminal record expungement: (1) through Chapter 609A of Minnesota statutes and (2) through the court’s inherent authority. The primary question in this case was whether a defendant who has been found not guilty by reason of insanity could qualify for expungement under Chapter 609A.

Minnesota Statute § 609A.02 provides the grounds in which a defendant can petition for an order of expungement. Section 609A.02, subdivision 3 specifically states that a person can petition for criminal record expungement if all pending actions or proceedings were resolved in favor of the petitioner. The issue here therefore is whether a finding of not guilty by reason of insanity could be construed as being resolved in the petitioner’s favor.

Generally, proceedings are resolved in the petitioner’s favor where he is found not guilty or where there is voluntary dismissal. A defendant that pleads guilty or is found to be guilty does not have a result that is in his favor.

In this case, the Minnesota Supreme Court determined that a finding of not guilty by reason of insanity was also not in the petitioner’s favor. The Court came to this decision because a finding of not guilty by reason of insanity meant that the petitioner would have been convicted but for proving he was insane. In other words, the prosecution was able to prove that the petitioner committed the act, but could not hold the petitioner legally liable because of the insanity defense.

This case thereby established that a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity was not in favor of the petitioner. As such, the petitioner could not petition for expungement under Chapter 609A.

It is relevant to note that the Minnesota Supreme Court also considered whether the petitioner could have his records expunged under the courts inherent authority. A court may expunge a criminal record through its inherent authority if it involves the petitioner’s constitutional rights, or if the petitioner shows that expungement will yield a benefit to the petitioner commensurate with the burdens to the public from the elimination of the record and the burden on the court.

The Court determined that there was no constitutional infringement, and also determined that the burdens weighed against expunging the petitioner’s records. As a result, the petitioner was denied his expungement request.

Facts of This Case: The petitioner in this case was indicted on first-degree murder. The jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity. The petitioner subsequently applied to have his criminal records expunged.

The District Court denied his expungement request, holding that the petitioner failed to meet the requirements of Chapter 609A because being found not guilty by reason of insanity was not in the petitioner’s favor. The Court of Appeals of Minnesota reversed the District Court’s decision, and ordered expungement. Upon appeal, the Minnesota Supreme Court in this case reversed the Court of Appeals, and determined (1) the petitioner’s proceedings were not resolved in his favor and he thereby could not invoke Chapter 609A, and (2) expungement would not be commensurate with the burdens on the public and the courts.

In determining that the petitioner was not eligible under Chapter 609A, the Court held that a finding of not guilty by reason of insanity was not a resolution in defendant’s favor. The Court reasoned that the petitioner would have been found guilty, but for the insanity defense. In other words, the Court found that the prosecution had proved that he committed the act. Because the petitioner had committed the act and was found not guilty only because of the insanity defense, the Court concluded that the proceeding was not in his favor.

The Court also concluded that the benefits of expungement were not commensurate with the burdens on the public and the courts. The Court held that the public needed to know about violent acts, especially one such as the petitioner’s first-degree murder charge. The Court also stated that the petitioner was already gainfully employed. As such, on balance, the Court determined that expungement could not be granted via the court’s inherent authority.

The Minnesota Supreme Court thereby reversed the decision of the court of appeals, and determined that expungement should not be granted.

Key Language: While a person found not guilty by reason of insanity is not criminally liable, he has been found to have committed the act of which he was accused. A verdict reflecting such a fact is not one “in favor of” respondent.

Expert Advise: “It is important to realize that even though one is not eligible under Chapter 609A to have his records expunged, he can still petition under the court’s inherent authority for expungement. This case is an extraordinary case where the petitioner had been indicted of the violent crime of first-degree murder. Generally, a petitioner cutoff from Chapter 609A has a fighting chance under the court’s inherent authority to petition for expungement if he presents evidence of rehabilitation and employment or housing hardships.” -Attorney Mathew Higbee.

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