Expungement is the process of going to court to ask a judge to seal a court record. It is important to remember that an expunged record is NOT destroyed. The police, FBI, immigration officers, and other public officials may still see sealed court files for certain purposes. Usually, people ask for an expungement when they have been denied a job, housing, or a professional license because of their criminal background. NOTE: Expungement of Eviction Records is a different type of action.
Types of Cases that May Be Expunged
Criminal case ended “in your favor”
Minnesota law allows expungement of a court record if the outcome is “in your favor.” Even if you are found “not guilty” in a criminal case, government offices may still have records about your case. For example, if you are arrested and charged, but the prosecutor later decides to dismiss the case, you may ask for an expungement. If you never entered a guilty plea and you successfully completed a pre-trial “diversion program,” you may also qualify for an expungement.
Criminal case ended “NOT in your favor”
Expungement of a conviction (“not in your favor”) case is possible, but not granted very often. A conviction (pleading guilty or being found guilty) is NOT an outcome “in your favor.” Also, if you pled guilty and received a “Stay of Imposition” or a “Stay of Adjudication” and the charge was later dismissed, this is still considered a conviction for expungement purposes. With the exception of certain juvenile and drug court cases, a guilty plea at any point in the case means the outcome was NOT “in your favor.”
Criminal laws are very complicated, and knowing when an outcome is “in your favor” can be difficult to figure out. If you have any questions about whether your case was resolved in your favor, ask your court administration or talk to a lawyer.
Serious crimes like murder, aggravated assault, driving while intoxicated, and sex offender crimes are never expunged. Convictions of minor crimes may be expunged only if you can show that you have made real changes in your life andthat it is very unlikely that you will commit another crime.
For cases that ended “not in your favor,” the law limits the judge’s power to expunge ONLY the court’s records. If you pled guilty or were convicted, the court can only order the court’s records sealed. This means that the MN Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (“BCA”) will still have a record of your criminal case, and the public can see this record.
Before deciding if it is worthwhile to ask the court for an expungement, you may want to get a copy of your non-public criminal record at the BCA to see if the case you want expunged would still be reported by the BCA. Many employers and landlords get criminal background information from the BCA and would see your criminal record even after the court expunged (sealed) the court’s records. Other records of your conviction, such as police and prosecutor records, are also outside the scope of the court’s expungement order and will not be sealed. There is one exception to this rule: if not expunging the record violates a person’sconstitutional rights, the court can order the BCA and others to seal records of a conviction. Talk to a lawyer for more information about this exception.
No Guarantee of Expungement
There is no guarantee that you will get an expungment. You need to do the paperwork and convince the Judge that, on balance, the benefit to you from getting an expungement is more than the disadvantage it would be for the public to not have access to your criminal record. This generally means you have to prove that:
you have been denied work, housing, or a professional license because of your record;
sealing your criminal record will not negatively affect public safety; and
you have rehabilitated yourself.
Expungement involves a lot of paperwork and attention to detail, and it takes at least 4 months to complete the process. If you decide to go forward and request an expungement, be sure that you talk to a lawyer or, at a minimum, that you understand all of the required procedures and that you carefully follow them.