Expungement Waiting Period - How It Applies, according to the Court of Appeals

Just this past late-spring, the Court of Appeals issued a ruling that summarily approved of a lower court decision in which the expungement waiting period was applied from the date of discharge going forward 2-, 4-, or 5-years. There was no analysis of the lower court’s decision, though, which left an opening for petitioners to continue to argue that the appropriate interpretation is still that the waiting period is the set of years immediately preceding the filing of the petition.

Thankfully, this issue was just resolved by the Court of Appeals in a published case, State v. C.W.N. The sole issue before the court was how the expungement waiting period applied in petty misdemeanor/misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor cases (2- and 4-year waiting periods). Interestingly, the court explicitly stated it did not address the relevant waiting period for felonies because the facts were not present. But, the statutory language is identical, so this holding will apply still.

The issue revolves around the following statutory language: “the petitioner was convicted of or received a stayed sentence for a petty misdemeanor or misdemeanor and has not been convicted of a new crime for at least two years since discharge of the sentence for the crime.” Minn. Stat. 609A.02, subd. 3(a). The key word – since – makes this statutory language ambiguous because it does not establish a point in time from which the waiting period starts. The State argued that the starting point was the date the petitioner was discharged from probation and the waiting period would last for the first 2-, 4-, or 5-years thereafter. Because most individuals that have multiple records do so within a short period of time from their most recent offense, this argument could pose as an absolute bar. Petitioners, as in C.W.N., argue that the waiting period starts from the date of filing the expungement petition working backwards the set amount of years. This interpretation leads to many more individuals being eligible for an expungement.

Facing these arguments, the C.W.N. Court found the ‘since’ language ambiguous and ultimately held that the waiting period applies backwards. That means that C.W.N. was eligible for an expungement of two records, despite the last offense having occurred within 2- or 4-years of the records sought to be expunged, which would have barred an expungement of such records. But, now, because of this ruling, the individual is eligible.

To simplify things, let’s set out an example of how this helps:

Petitioner has two records. In 2000, the petitioner was convicted of a misdemeanor domestic assault. After one year on probation, he was discharged from probation in 2001. In 2002, the same individual was convicted of a felony theft greater than $5,000 making him ineligible to get that record expunged.

Under the State’s argument, the subsequent felony within two-years of the date of discharge on the misdemeanor conviction would have been a permanent bar to expunge the domestic. But, now after C.W.N., the two-year waiting period applies from today’s date working backwards. Without any convictions during these years, this person is eligible to get the misdemeanor domestic expunged, regardless of the felony theft. Of course, eligibility is the first step of the analysis and the individual must still carry his/her burden of proving why they need and deserve the expungement.

The recent Court of Appeals cases are favoring the petitioner, demonstrating that the intent behind the new law was to help individuals get the second chances they need. This is another helpful case for those that need an expungement. If you are seeking an expungement, be sure to get an expungement attorney that is experienced and is up-to-date on the latest court of appeals cases that could help your cause.