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Speculative Arguments Cannot Be Used to Oppose Expungements

  |   Case Law Updates, Expungement

State attorneys will guard and protect criminal records at all costs – even when the record involves a resolution in the petitioner’s favor, such as an acquittal. Yes, that’s correct. State attorneys will even object to an expungement of a record in which the defendant was found not guilty by a jury of his or her peers. Why such a record would be so important to the State? You’ve got me. And apparently the Court of Appeals agrees with me.

In the decision in State v. D.R.F., the Court of Appeals overruled a district court order denying an expungement of an acquittal (yes, that means a district court somehow ruled in favor of the State – despite the State having to carry its burden of proof). The district court bought the State’s argument that this record of acquittal must remain public because (1) the petitioner failed to show for trial for over a year, which adversely affected the state’s ability to prove its case (i.e. punishment for failing to show for trial via a denial of his expungement petition (seriously – you can’t make this up)) and (2) the fact that the failure to show for court is an important record to maintain for purposes of bail evaluation in the event the petitioner ever face criminal charges in the future.

Relying on its prior decision in R.H.B. – which stands for the proposition that the State, when opposing, cannot rely upon generic arguments and must present evidence that “sealing the record would present a unique or particularized harm to the public” – the Court of Appeals summarily dismissed the district court’s order, finding that such arguments presented by the State are speculative. These type of “hypothetical” arguments cannot be used to oppose an expungement.

Remember, appealing an expungement is an abuse of discretion standard – meaning, the appellate court is essentially deferring to the judgment of the district court, unless the decision is just plain wrong. Close calls are usually resolved in favor of the district court’s decision.

Here, this wasn’t a close call. The Court of Appeals had already mandated that the State must point to specific reasons why a record is important to remain unsealed. Still, many courts don’t know this and don’t follow this directive. This is another clear example as to why it’s critical that you have an experienced and knowledgeable Minnesota expungement lawyer by your side – even for cases that were resolved in your favor.