Resolved in Favor Expungements Include Continuance for Dismissals
The Court of Appeals issued a published opinion (compared to the many unpublished ones on the expungement law) that clarified the application of the “resolved in favor” language to continuance for dismissals. In doing so, the Court overruled a district court (Hennepin County) decision that ruled in favor of the State carrying its significant burden of proof to overcome the presumption in favor of an expungement. Both holdings are important to understand for the continuing evolution of our expungement law.
First, Minn. Stat. 609A.02, subd. 3(a)(1) presumes an expungement will be granted when the case was resolved in their favor. There is no working definition of “resolved in favor” in the expungement statute. Case law predating the 2015 law change had previously held that identical language included the following type of outcomes: dismissals, acquittals, and continued for dismissals. A continuance for a dismissal is an agreement between the prosecutor and defendant to cease further prosecution for a period of time, during which the defendant must abide by certain conditions. Upon doing so, the case will be administratively dismissed. There is not an acknowledgement of guilty or facts that would make the person guilty typically. As such, old case law deemed this was a resolution in the petitioner’s favor. The new law did nothing to change the statutory language on this type of outcome and, therefore, the court of appeals found that a continuance for a dismissal is still a resolved in favor outcome for expungement purposes.
Second, somewhat hidden in this analysis is the fact that the Court of Appeals focused on the fact that a continuance for dismissal does not involve a finding or admission of facts that would make the defendant guilt. To the Court, this distinguished it from diversion programs in which there is an offering of guilt or admission of facts in order to enter the program. But, there are some diversion programs that do not require this feature. And in those cases, it’s arguable that the resultant dismissal of the case following the defendant’s successful completion of the diversion program could be considered a resolved in favor outcome. This saves the petitioner a filing fee and the one-year waiting period. It takes an artful argument and an expungement attorney well-versed in the statutory and case law.
Third, resolved in favor cases are presumptive, requiring the State to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the burden to the state outweighs the disadvantages to the petitioner in not having this record sealed. The Court reiterated what level of evidence must be presented in order for the State to overcome this presumption. The State must point to unique or particularized reasons why it needs the record, not just a generalized argument. Under the clear and convincing standard, this requires that the evidence be “unequivocal, intrinsically probable and credible, and free from frailties.”
Finally, the Court of Appeals reversed a finding of fact as clearly erroneous when the district court ruled that an allegation in the complaint was proven fact. This is wrong because there was never an admission to any of the facts in the complaint as part of the continuance for dismissal. As a result, when the allegations remain unproven, it is clearly erroneous for an expungement court to consider them as proven fact. While this seems obvious, it happens with too much frequency and this is not the first time the Court of Appeals has overruled a lower court’s finding of fact on unproven facts.
As you can see, even on cases that appear to be slam-dunks for the petitioner, prosecutors and judges can get creative in denying a needful expungement. Something to consider, this petitioner was denied the right to enlist in the Air Force because of this record, yet, even with a presumptive expungement, he was denied his petition. When so much is at stake, any person seeking an expungement would be wise to invest in an experienced expungement attorney.