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Minnesota: Favorable Resolution of Charges Establishes Rebuttable Presumption of Expungement

The Minnesota Supreme Court held that the favorable resolution of criminal proceedings establishes a rebuttable presumption in favor of expungement under state law.

In May 2009, a defendant identified only as RHB was charged with first- and third-degree assault for injuring a young child. He was found not guilty by a jury and the trial court entered a judgment of acquittal. In January 2011, RHB petitioned the court for an order of expungement to seal his criminal records.

Minnesota’s expungement law, Minn. Stat. § 609A.03(5)(b), mandates that the court “‘shall grant the petition’ unless the party opposing the petition ‘establishes by clear and convincing evidence that the interests of the public and public safety outweigh the disadvantages to the petitioner of not sealing the record.’”

The court granted RHB’s petition, concluding that the “‘State has failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence’ that the public’s interests outweigh RHB’s interests.”

The Court of Appeals, however, held the trial court had abused its discretion by failing to identify any specific disadvantage that RHB would suffer in the absence of expungement. It also held that a petitioner cannot rely solely upon the fact that criminal proceedings were resolved in his or her favor.

The Minnesota Supreme Court reversed, rejecting both findings. The Court stated “that once a petitioner meets the ‘legal threshold’ contained in Minn. Stat. § 609A.02, subd. 3, he or she is ‘presumptively entitled to expungement.’” That presumption “is a ‘rebuttable statutory presumption’ that ‘shifts the burden of ... persuasion’ to the opposing party.” The statute’s plain wording dictates that “a prior acquittal is sufficient to justify expungement unless the party opposing expungement affirmatively meets its burden of persuasion.” Moreover, “a petitioner is not required to prove specific disadvantages that he or she will suffer if the petition is denied.”

The Supreme Court noted that “the State presented almost no evidence that sealing RHB’s criminal record would present a unique or particularized harm to the public.” Indeed, the affidavits submitted by the state in opposition to RHB’s petition were “unremarkable and generalized, and could be submitted in nearly every expungement case.”

Accordingly, the Court found the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it concluded the state had failed to overcome the presumption of expungement to which RHB was entitled. See: Minnesota v. RHB, 821 N.W.2d 817 (Minn. 2012).