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Expungement Benefits & Commensurating Societal Burdens with the Petitioner's Benefits

State v. H.A.
Minnesota Court of Appeals
August 19, 2013

Holding: When determining a petitioner’s eligibility for expungement under the court’s inherent authority, a court must balance certain factors to determine whether the benefits to the petitioner are commensurate with societal burdens.

Why This Case is Important: There are several factors that a court weighs in order to determine whether it ought to expunge a petitioner’s criminal records pursuant to its inherent authority. The five prevalent factors outlined in this case are:

  1. Difficulty securing employment
  2. The seriousness of the offense
  3. The petitioner’s risk
  4. Any other offenses or rehabilitative efforts
  5. Other objective evidence of hardship.

The petitioner must present all relevant evidence that would bolster his petitioner for expungement. Such evidence can be extensive rehabilitation, a history of unsuccessful employment, no further criminal incidents, extreme inability to find housing, and a less serious offense. If the court finds that the totality of the factors weigh in favor of expungement, it will grant the petitioner his requested relief.

It is important to note that the court is applying a factor driven test. This means that the court can weigh one factor more heavily than another. As such, the strength of one factor might be able to overcome the weakness of another. However, on balance, a successful petitioner will satisfy each requirement of the test.

Facts of This Case: The petitioner in this case applied to expunge his criminal sexual offense records. The petition alleged that he could not find a job because of his records and was having difficulty paying his mortgage. In particular, the petitioner alleged he had applied for a job with airport security, and was afraid that his record would prevent him from this opportunity. The district court awarded the petitioner relief.

The Minnesota court of appeals reversed the decision. The court of appeals held that the petitioner needed to meet the above-mentioned five factors. In regards to these factors, the court of appeals found that:

  1. The petitioner did not indicate a history of unsuccessful employment
  2. He owns a home
  3. His sexual offense charge was severe
  4. Law enforcement and prosecutorial should have access to his records because the offense was sexual in nature and prone to relapse
  5. Petitioner was on probation for a similar offense
  6. There was no indication of any rehabilitative efforts.

As a result, the court of appeals reversed the district court’s decision on the grounds that the weight of the factors did not support expungement.

Key Language: Balance test of comparing the benefits to the petitioner of expungement with the disadvantages to the public and courts requires the court to determine (a) extent that a petitioner has demonstrated difficulties in securing employment or housing as a result of the records sought to be expunged, (b) the serious and nature of offense, (c) the potential risk that petitioner poses and ho this affects the public’s right to access petitioner’s records, (d) any additional offenses or rehabilitative efforts since the offense on record, and (e) any other objective evidence of hardship under the circumstances.

Expert Advise: “This case clearly illustrates how a court will weigh out factors in determining whether expungement should be granted. It provides a strong foundation on what arguments a petitioner should make and what evidence the petitioner should present in order to successfully expunge his criminal records.” -Attorney Mathew Higbee.

To read about more cases that help to define record clearing relief laws click here.

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