Underage DWI Expungement - Court of Appeals Decision

As we’ve discussed on our website and previous blog posts, DWI expungements are difficult to attain. The same could be said for an underage DWI expungement, a conviction that should be treated completely different. In a recent decision, State v. R.P.C., the Court of Appeals reversed a denial of an underage DWI expungement petition, finding the district court’s ruling to be clearly erroneous on a number of facts pertaining to the new Minnesota expungement law.

The Facts

In July of 2013, appellant R.P.C. was cited for misdemeanor underage drinking and driving. He was 19 years old and pled guilty to the offense in August, received a stayed sentence, and was placed on probation. R.P.C. indicated he successfully completed probation in August 2014, but the prosecutor contends he was not officially discharged until October 2014 and R.P.C. included October 29, 2014 as the date of discharge on his petition for expungement. Appellant filed the petition in the spring of 2016.

Since his offense, R.P.C. graduated from college and got an offer to begin work at Deloitte in Washington, D.C. as a business analyst. He indicated he sought expungement because his position would likely involve background checks, he would be seeking housing, and for travel purposes. The district court conducted a hearing in September 2016. The city attorney’s office filed a letter with the judge opposing expungement on the grounds that the offense was recent and relevant to insurers, investigators, and government background checks. The district court denied appellant’s petition for expungement.

Court of Appeals Analysis

1. The Court of Appeals found that the district court equated the crime to a DWI. DWI convictions are unique in that they are targeted for use to enhance future criminal charges in ways that most other crimes are not. Due to their enhanceable nature, the State zealously fights to keep DWI records unsealed.

This was their first mistake. An underage drinking and driving conviction is not the same as a typical DWI, as in it’s not targeted for use by the State or enhanceable. The Court of Appeals continued, stating that this crime was not one that R.C.P. could repeat, as he was now past the legal drinking age, and thus was irrelevant for enhancement use.

Briefly stated, this was a completely false legal analysis that had no legal basis and it goes to show what lengths State prosecutors and even judges will go to deny a petition for an expungement of a DWI record.

2. The District Court determined that R.C.P. did not meet his burden of proof, concluding that there was no hardship resulting from the record, only “speculative and intangible harm.” At the same time, the District Court also concluded that the concerns for future employment and housing weighed in favor of him.

Confused? So was the Court of Appeals, as they believed that it was contradictory for the same factor to weigh in favor while also being only speculative and intangible. Again, when it comes to DWI records, expungement petitions will often be denied on tenuous reasoning – even inconsistent reasoning as it was in this case.

There is no doubt that this is a very important Court of Appeals decision regarding the viability of misdemeanor expungements and scope of DWI expungements. What is clear – it is imperative to retain a misdemeanor expungement attorney or DWI expungement attorney to help you get the right and just result so that you can get the second chance you deserve.