New Minnesota law facilitates sealing of records
Responding to an outcry of concern, the Minnesota legislature this spring facilitated efforts to expunge criminal records.
The law, signed by Governor Dayton in the waning days of the 2014 legislative session, expanded the rights of Minnesotans to seek redaction or sealing of records relating to past wrongdoing, which had been hampered by a pair of decisions in 2013 of the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Efforts to expunge such records often are sought by individuals who have been rehabilitated and wish to eradicate under that could impair job prospects or promotions, schooling, or scholarship opportunities, renting a home or apartment, or pose other impediments. This is particularly true in Minnesota where about 4% of the adults in the state are in prison, on parole, or probation, the fourth highest percentage of adults under correctional supervision in the country.
But after last year’s court-imposed limitations on expungement, help is on the way for rehabilitated Minnesotans who have served their time and improved themselves in the process. The prior restrictions prevented trial judges from ordering expungement or sealing of records held by government authorities. Under the so-called “executive branch” rule, they could, in their discretion, direct the sealing of court records, but not records held by law enforcement agencies, administrative bodies, and various state and local agencies, such as licensing agencies.
The 2014 law tries to balance the rights of ex-offenders to a clean slate and the interest of public safety. Under the new measure:
- Judges continue to have broad discretion in deciding whether to expunge or seal criminal records, including those material in the executive branch;
- A judge must balance a number of considerations, including the benefit to the person seeking expungement and the public interest in not sealing such records;
- Juvenile delinquency records also can be expunged or sealed;
- Private website must delete records such as booking photos and police reports upon a judicial order;
- But serious crimes, such as murder and sex crimes, cannot be expunged;
- Nor can drunk driving offenses;
- Similarly, some drug offenses may not be subject to expungement.
Many obstacles remain for individuals in Minnesota in efforts to expunge past criminal records. But the new law will expand the opportunities to do so in appropriate circumstances.
 "One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections" published by the Pew Center (2009), p. 42