Expungement reform bill passed 85-47 by House, offers past offenders a second chance

A bill designed to give a second chance to Minnesotans who made a past mistake was passed early Wednesday morning by the House.

Sponsored by Rep. Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing), HF2576 would reform the state’s expungement laws in hopes of helping people with a past transgression find jobs and housing. Following the 85-47 vote, the bill now heads to the Senate where Sen. Bobby Joe Champion (DFL-Mpls) is the sponsor.

The bill comes from the interim efforts of the bipartisan Expungement Working Group, which was chaired by Champion and Rep. Debra Hilstrom (DFL-Brooklyn Center).

Expungement is a way for judges to seal criminal records, including arrests, prosecutions and convictions for people who have demonstrated changed behavior after completing punishment.

“We know these laws have been unclear for a number of years now,” Melin told the House Ways and Means Committee March 26. “With some recent state Supreme Court decisions it became even more unclear, and the Supreme Court basically kicked it back to the Legislature and said we need to do something to address the expungement issue and when it comes to collateral consequences associated with criminal records.”

A 2013 court decision ruled that judges can only expunge court records, not additional data collected by state agencies, such as arrest and investigative records. This has led to expunged offenses still surfacing during certain background checks.

The section that deals most substantively with the adult Supreme Court case would spell out what records can be sealed in both the executive and judicial branch.

“It would clarify that if somebody has successfully completed terms of a diversion program or stay of adjudication and have not been charged with a new crime for at least two years since completion of the program they would be eligible for an expungement at that time,” Mark Haase, vice president of projects and operations at the Council on Crime and Justice, told the House Pubic Safety Finance and Policy Committee March 20. “Those petitioners would still have to show by clear and convincing evidence that they are being basically held back by their record, that they’ve shown some evidence of progress in their lives and that the benefit of getting the expungement would outweigh the burden on public safety in the state.”

The bill would also extend expungement eligibility to the following circumstances:

  • if the petitioner was convicted of or received a stayed sentence for a petty misdemeanor, misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor and has not been convicted of a new crime for at least five years since discharge of the sentence for the crime; or
  • if the petitioner was convicted of or received a stayed sentence for a limited list of felony violations that does not include person offenses or crimes of violence, and the petitioner has not been convicted of a new crime for at least eight years since discharge of the sentence.

For juvenile cases, the bill would require a court to expunge all juvenile arrest and delinquency proceedings if it determines the expungement would benefit the subject without being a detriment to public safety. Juvenile records sealed prior to enactment of this bill would continue to be subject to current law. The bill proposes criteria for judges to evaluate requests for juvenile expungements.

Other provisions include:

  • an expungement could be provided for without the filing of a petition in certain cases where the prosecutor agrees to the sealing of a criminal record, unless the court determines the interest of public safety in keeping the record outweighs the disadvantages to the petitioner;
  • a business screening service must delete a criminal record from its database if it knows the record has been sealed, expunged or is the subject of a pardon;
  • allowing for exchange of expunged records between criminal justice agencies without a court order;
  • allowing eviction records to be sealed when there is a finding in favor of the defendant;
  • requiring court administration to notify the petitioner of entities receiving the expungement order;
  • creation of a special protection for persons who have a record expunged and the person is deemed a crime victim and there is a nexus between the expunged record and the person’s status as a crime victim; and
  • keeping an expunged record private if the human services commissioner disqualifies an applicant based on the expunged record.

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    Mike Cook's picture
    Mike Cook

    Mike Cook writes for Session Daily, a publication of the Minnesota House of Representatives.