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Expunging Records Held by Executive Governmental Agencies in Minnesota

State v. M.D.T
Supreme Court of Minnesota
May 22, 2013

Holding: The court does not have inherent authority to expunge criminal records being held by executive governmental agencies.

Why This Case is Important: A petitioner may invoke statutory authority or the court’s inherent authority in order to expunge her record. If the petitioner does not meet the statutory requirements, she must seek expungement under the court’s inherent authority. Generally, to invoke the court’s inherent authority, a petitioner will assert that the benefits of expungement outweigh the burdens to the public. If the court determines that the petitioner has met her burden, it will grant expungement.

However, the Supreme Court of Minnesota has held that a court cannot expunge records that are held in the executive branch. This is because the power to expunge records in the executive branch does not fall within the court’s inherent authority, as it does not serve a unique judicial function. As such, although a petitioner may expunge records that are held by the judicial branch, she will no longer be able to expunge records held by executive bodies, such as the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA).

It is important to note that although expungement is cut off from the executive branch, expungement of judicial records still allows the petitioner to obtain great benefits. It will put her in a significant advantage of persons who were convicted but ineligible for expungement, and will allow her to move forward with her life and achieve personal and professional success.

Facts of This Case: The petitioner in this case was convicted of aggravated forgery pursuant to a plea agreement. After her probation, the petitioner filed for expungement of her criminal records through the court’s inherent authority. The district court granted expungement of her records held in the judicial and executive branch, and the Minnesota court of appeals affirmed the decision.

The Minnesota Supreme Court reversed the decision to expunge records held in the executive branch. The Court determined that the authority to expunge records in the judicial branch did not automatically mean that courts could expunge records held in another branch of government. As the Court state, this was because the expungement of executive records is not a unique judicial function, and is therefore not within the court’s inherent authority. As a result, although the petitioner had proven that the benefit to her would outweigh the burdens on the public and the courts, the Court concluded that expungement of her records held by the executive branch were not possible.

The Minnesota Supreme Court thereby reversed in part the decision to expunge records held in the executive branch.

Key Language: Expungement of petitioner’s criminal records that were held in the executive branch was not necessary to the performance of a unique judicial function, and thus, the court did not have inherent judicial authority to expunge those records.

Expert Advise: “This case law is relatively new, and because it is new, some District Attorneys and Judges incorrectly interpret the case as to prevent expungement of criminal records entirely. This however is not true. This case clearly establishes that expungement of criminal records is only prevented in the executive branch. Criminal records in the judicial branch will still be expunged, which will most certainly give the petitioner significant advantages.” -Attorney Mathew Higbee.

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

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