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This week, the Minnesota Court of Appeals limited the scope of offenses eligible for expungement in State v. S.A.M. Once Minnesota’s new expungement law took effect last year, a wide array of offenses suddenly became eligible for expungement.[1] Virtually every petty misdemeanor, misdemeanor, and gross misdemeanor conviction became eligible for expungement under specific conditions.[2] Additionally, over fifty felony offenses were made available for expungement under Minnesota’s new law.[3]

In State v. S.A.M., the court of appeals affirmed the denial of S.A.M.’s request to expunge his felony offense. S.A.M.’s felony offense was second degree burglary, which is not one of the enumerated felonies available for expungement under the new law. But the sentencing court stayed imposition of sentence on S.A.M.’s burglary charge, which meant his felony conviction would become a misdemeanor if he successfully completed probation.[4] S.A.M. did complete probation in 2008 – transforming his felony conviction into a misdemeanor.

S.A.M. argued to the court of appeals that he did not have a felony conviction. His conviction was now a misdemeanor, because he abided by his stay of imposition and successfully completed probation. Thus, S.A.M.’s attorney argued the court should treat his conviction as an eligible misdemeanor under the Minnesota’s new expungement law and not a felony. In a garden-variety-statutory-interpretation analysis, the court of appeals did not agree. The court stated “it is uncontested that he was ‘convicted of’ a felony offense and he received a stayed sentence for a felony.” Under the plain language of Minnesota’s new expungement statute, the court held S.A.M. is “not entitled to seek relief under the section of the expungement statute related to misdemeanor offenses.”

The Council on Crime and Justice submitted an amicus curiae brief in this case. It urged the court to consider the reasoning behind Minnesota’s new expungement law: give people a “second chance” to clear their criminal records when it was too difficult under Minnesota’s old expungement law. The court responded by stating it is not unsympathetic to S.A.M.’s situation, but he should direct his arguments at the legislature. This was the court’s way of saying “we want to rule for you, but we do not want to interpret the law incorrectly, so tell the legislature to write a law including the relief you are seeking.”

Minnesota’s new expungement law still casts a wide net. After a year in practice, many people are clearing their criminal records when they previously could not. To stretch the expungement net even wider, S.A.M. will likely petition the Minnesota Supreme Court for review. But even if the high court decides to hear the case, there is no guarantee of success. The other avenue around the blockade may be through the legislature.

Robert H. Ambrose is a criminal defense lawyer in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. For a free consultation about whether your offense may be expungement eligible, call us at 651-800-4842 or email: ambroselegal@icloud.com. Expungement lawyer MN; Criminal Defense Attorney St. Paul MN; and Minneapolis Criminal Defense Lawyer

[1] See our blog post here about domestic-abuse related cases being made eligible for expungement last fall.

[2] In most misdemeanor cases, a person may apply for expungement two years after they successfully complete probation while not picking up any new offenses. In most gross misdemeanor cases, the same conditions apply, but a person must wait at least four years.

[3] See the list of felony cases here.

[4] See Minn. Stat. § 609.13.

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