Being convicted of a crime can have a major impact on your life. It can affect things such as your ability to get housing or employment, driving privileges, and more. Luckily, Minnesota law provides many people with the ability to clear their old criminal records in some circumstances. This process is known as expungement. This guide will look into the basics of the process and provide a step-by-step overview of how expungement works.
What is an Expungement?
Expungement is the legal process by which a person’s criminal record is sealed from public view. The records still exist but are not publicly accessible. Under certain circumstances these sealed records can be reopened, but only for very specific reasons. They are not available to the general public. This means that those records are no longer available to potential employers, landlords, educational institutions, etc. This allows you to move forward with your life rather than being held back by the stigma and other limitations that can be caused by old criminal records.
Who is Eligible for Expungement in Minnesota?
Not all criminal records are eligible for expungement. Whether or not a person qualifies depends on a lot of things, including the type of offense, the way the case was resolved, the time that has passed since the case was resolved, and whether the person has had any new criminal charges in the meantime. As a basic rule, there are three conditions that must be met before a record is eligible for expungement.
- Waiting Period: A certain time must have passed since the case was resolved. This length of time varies, but generally it is longer for more serious offenses and shorter for less serious crimes. The resolution of the case can also impact the waiting period – basically, if you got a good deal when the case was resolved, you may have a shorter waiting period than someone who did not.
- No New Convictions: Any new convictions that occur during the waiting period can “reset the clock”, forcing you to begin the waiting period all over again.
- Qualified Offense: The offense you’re trying to get expunged must be a qualified offense under Minnesota law. This includes most misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors, as well as a long list of felony crimes. More serious offenses such as sex crimes or violent crimes may not qualify.
The Process, Step-by-Step:
- Consult with an Attorney: It is certainly possible to file for and receive an expungement without hiring an attorney to help you, but it’s difficult. The State of Minnesota provides forms you can use, which can be found here. But beware – the process is complicated and an error in your paperwork can lead to your request being denied!
- Get a Copy of Your Criminal Records: You’ll need to get a copy of your criminal records so that you know exactly what is there and what the judge is going to be looking at. Any surprises in your criminal record can impact whether you’re eligible for expungement. You need to know what your record looks like before bringing your case to a judge. It might also not be a bad idea to take a look at the expungement statute itself too. It’s not an easy read, but having some familiarity with it can be helpful. It can be found starting here. You’ll want to review sections 609A.01 through 609A.04 at least.
- Complete the Expungement Petition: Once you’ve reviewed your records and think you qualify, it’s time to fill out the paperwork. As a reminder, the forms needed can be found here. Do this part carefully! Any errors or omissions can result in your request being denied.
- Collect Helpful Documents: In addition to the petition, you’ll want to submit any other documents you have that might support your claim. These might include character references, treatment records, certificates or awards you’ve received, or documents that show the hardship that your old criminal record is causing.
- File the Petition: Once you’ve gathered the documents listed above and filled out the petition paperwork, you’ll need to file it with the appropriate district court. This will typically be the court that your conviction occurred in. You’ll also need to pay the filing fee, or apply for a fee waiver from the court.
- Serve Notice to the Parties: Once you’ve got everything filed, you need to send copies of everything to all involved parties. This includes the prosecutor’s office, law enforcement agencies, and any other government agencies whose records could be impacted by your request.
- Hearing: This step varies from county to county throughout Minnesota, but at some point you’ll have a court hearing to address your request. Use this time to highlight to the judge (or referee, in some counties) why your request should be granted. Talk about the hardship your old record has caused you, and steps you’ve taken to improve yourself. Your goal is to convince the judge that you won’t reoffend again because of the changes you’ve made.
- Decision: The judge will issue a decision after your hearing. They may do this at the end of the hearing itself, in which case you’ll be told what the decision is before leaving the courtroom. In other cases, the judge may want additional time to review your submission or to look at the law further. In this case, the judge will take your case “under advisement” and mail you a written copy of their decision later. If the judge decides to grant your request, the court will mail copies of the order to the government agencies involved in your case, directing them to seal their records.
Getting old criminal records expunged is a very big deal for people trying to move on from their past and get a fresh start. Expungement can open new doors to opportunities for housing, employment, or seeking higher education. If you’re being weighed down by the history of your past, the process above can help you get out from under that burden and move forward with improving your life.