Expungement Appeal - Standards of Review

With the Supreme Court set to hear the big appeal on the stay of imposition issue as it relates to expungements this coming October, let’s review the applicable standards of review the Court should employ in an expungement appeal.

The decision itself – i.e. whether to grant or deny an expungement petition – is reviewed for an ‘abuse of discretion.’ This means that the appellate court will not (more like, should not) overrule the district court decision unless the court “exercised its discretion in an arbitrary or capricious manner or based its ruling on an erroneous interpretation of the law.” The latter standard is due to the idea that appellate courts always review legal conclusions without consideration to the district courts findings.

With the new expungement law still in its toddler years, there are areas of ambiguity that require legal conclusions that are certainly ripe for an appeal. For instance, how the waiting period is applied – i.e. going forward from the date the petitioner is discharged from probation or backwards from the date the petition is filed – will likely be an issue for the appellate courts to consider in the future. Outside of these legal issues, though, asking an appellate court to simply overrule a district courts decision is a tall task. Deference is the name of the game and too often it is given to district courts. But, hope remains if a bad decision was based upon a poor interpretation of facts.

When you are asking the appellate court to review the findings of fact in an expungement order, it will apply the ‘clearly erroneous’ standard. These are facts that are “manifestly contrary to the weight of the evidence or not supported by the evidence as a whole.”

You’d be surprised at how often a district court will incorrectly apply facts to the 12 factors in order to reach the desired result of denying an expungement. If a petition is denied, the district court shall carefully consider all 12 factors and do so in writing. Failing to do so can lead to a decision being remanded back to district court for further clarification. And, if the decision is simply wrong when analyzing the factors, an appellate court will not hesitate to find a district court was clearly erroneous. This is exactly what happened when the Court of Appeals overturned a Hennepin County decision regarding a DWI expungement.

If you received a poor ruling on an expungement petition, recourse is available. It requires a skilled and experienced Minnesota expungement attorney to understand the expungement appeal process. North Star Criminal Defense is the team you need.