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Criminal Expungement

Expungement is the process of going to court to ask a judge to seal a court record. It is important to remember that an expunged record is NOT destroyed. The police, FBI, immigration officers, and other public officials may still see sealed court files for certain purposes. Usually, people ask for an expungement when they have been denied a job, housing, or a professional license because of their criminal background. NOTE: Expungement of Housing Eviction Records is a different type of action.

Below is an overview of the criminal expungement process in MN District Court. Read through our Definitions tab for commonly used words and our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for more information about the criminal expungement process.

What is criminal expungement?

Criminal expungement is the process of going to court to ask a judge to seal records from a criminal court case so that they cannot be seen by the public. It is important to remember that an expunged record is NOT destroyed. The police, law enforcement agencies, FBI, immigration, and other public officials may still see sealed records from criminal court cases for certain purposes. Usually, people ask for an expungement when they have been denied a job, housing, or a professional license because of their criminal background.

NOTE: Expungement of Housing Eviction Court Records is a separate court process. This type of expungement asks for a judge to seal an eviction court record (formerly known as unlawful detainer) from public view. Eviction expungement has different steps and requirements.

Acquittal

To be found not guilty of a crime by a jury or judge.
 

Continuance for Dismissal

An agreement between the prosecutor and the defendant to not move forward with prosecution of a criminal case for a set amount of time. If the defendant follows the terms of the agreement and does not get any new criminal charges within the agreed-upon time, then the case will be dismissed.
 

Conviction

To be found guilty of a crime through a guilty plea or by a jury or judge after trial.
 

Crime

An act not allowed by law that may be punished by imprisonment and/or a fine.
 

Criminal Expungement

The process of going to court to ask a judge to seal records from a criminal court case so that they cannot be seen by the public. Usually, people ask for an expungement when they have been denied a job, housing, or a professional license because of their criminal background.
 

Defendant

A person charged with a crime.
 

Dismissal

The ending of a criminal case prior to trial or verdict that stops the proceedings against the defendant.
 

Diversion Program

A program that refers certain defendants (for example, those with no prior criminal history, no prior diversion, no prior felonies, not a violent criminal offense, etc.) before trial to community programs such as job training or education which, if successfully completed, may lead to dismissal of the criminal case.
 

Felony

A serious crime punished by imprisonment for a period of more than one year.
 

Gross Misdemeanor

A crime punished by imprisonment for a period between 91 and 365 days and/or a fine up to $3,000.
 

Law Enforcement Agency

An agency at the state, county, or city level that enforces laws, makes arrests, and investigates crimes.
 

Misdemeanor

A crime punished by imprisonment of less than 90 days and/or a fine up to $1,000.
 

Objection

A response by an agency (for example, MN Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, County Attorney’s Office, City Attorney’s Office, etc.) to a person’s criminal expungement petition/proposed order. Objections may be done via letter to the court (with a copy sent to the defendant) or they can be raised at the court hearing.
 

Pardon

The use of the executive power of the Governor to forgive a person convicted of a crime, so that any remaining penalties or punishments are removed and the convicted person is treated as innocent.
 

Petty Misdemeanor

An act punished by a fine not more than $300 that is not considered to be a crime.
 

Probation

A court-ordered penalty as part of a criminal sentence where the defendant has to follow set conditions to prevent future criminal behavior. Probation may be supervised or unsupervised.
 

Prosecutor

An attorney working for city or county government that works to prove that a defendant committed a crime.
 

Stay of Adjudication

Occurs following a guilty plea when the court withholds entering a conviction if the defendant follows certain conditions (for example, probation, community service, fines, treatment, restitution, etc.). If the defendant successfully completes these conditions, the criminal case is dismissed.
 

Stay of Imposition

Occurs following a guilty plea to a particular level of offense. If the defendant agrees to follow certain conditions (for example, probation, community service, fines, treatment, restitution, etc.) and successfully completes the conditions, the conviction is dropped to a lower level (for example, Gross Misdemeanor to Misdemeanor). If the defendant does not successfully complete the conditions, the court can vacate the stay of imposition.
 

What is a crime?

A crime is an act not allowed by law.  A person convicted of a crime may be punished by imprisonment and/or a fine. Minn. Stat. § 609.02 defines a crime as follows:

  • Felony - punished by imprisonment for a period of more than one year;
  • Gross Misdemeanor - punished by imprisonment for a period between 91 and 365 days and/or a fine up to $3,000; and
  • Misdemeanor - punished by imprisonment of less than 90 days and/or a fine of up to $1,000.

NOTE: A petty misdemeanor is not considered a crime under MN law. Imprisonment cannot be ordered for a petty misdemeanor, only a fine of not more than $300.

 

What is my MN criminal record and where is it kept?

Your complete MN criminal record is a combination of all of the files and records of any felony, gross misdemeanor, misdemeanor, or petty misdemeanor ever charged against you in MN. Your record will also include the sentences served for those charges, if any. Every city, county, and state law enforcement agency, prosecutor's office, and court keeps its own records.

What government offices keep criminal records?

Many government offices keep criminal records, including, but not limited to the following:

  • Courts have records of all cases where criminal charges were brought;
  • Police keep records of arrests and investigations;
  • Prosecutors (city attorney, county attorney, attorney general) have records of criminal cases;
  • State agencies like the MN Department of Human Services (MN DHS) may keep records; and
  • Law enforcement agencies (police, State Patrol, etc.) send records to the MN Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA).
Where can I get a copy of my criminal record?

In MN, the most common places to get a copy of your criminal record are the District Court and the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA).

Under MN law, a crime includes a misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor, or felony. A petty misdemeanor is not a crime according to Minn. Stat. § 609.02, subd. 4(a), but such cases will still show on your criminal case history.
 

Court Records

To ask for criminal expungement, you will need specific details for all court cases where you were charged with a crime, including cases where you were not convicted. This includes State and Federal criminal court cases, as well as cases in other countries. For MN District Court cases, details are listed in the "Register of Actions" for the case, which you can get from court administration or from a public records terminal at the courthouse. Do not rely on the information listed in MPA Remote - Court Records (online court records) as that information is not as detailed as what you will get from the courthouse.
 

Criminal Records at Other Agencies

Law enforcement agencies are required to report certain details about crimes to the BCA, so you should also get the details of your criminal record on file at the BCA. The BCA criminal record may be different from your criminal court record. Visit the BCA Criminal History Records website to find out how you can search and get copies of BCA records. You can also contact the BCA at:

MN Bureau of Criminal Apprehension
1430 Maryland Avenue
CJIS Section
St. Paul, MN 55106
(651) 793-2400

If you had a criminal case in another state, contact that court directly to get your criminal record information. You may also want to contact the
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) if you are not sure what cases you have in other states. The FBI mailing address is:

FBI-CJIS Division - Summary Request
1000 Custer Hollow Road
Clarksburg, VA 26306
(304) 625-5590

Does my criminal case history include my driving records?

The MN Judicial Branch’s case record system groups criminal, traffic, and petty misdemeanor cases together. This means your criminal case history from the District Court (court record) will include all traffic cases regardless of the level of offense.

However, driving records are different than court records and are held by the MN Department of Public Safety: Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS). If you have traffic cases that are making it hard for you to get a commercial driver’s license for a job or that are raising your car insurance premiums, it is likely your driving record that is causing these problems. Contact DVS directly to ask whether something can be removed from your driving record.

Can I expunge my driving record?

You can ask the court to seal any criminal court record if you meet the standards under the law. However, because the MN Department of Public Safety: Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS) is in charge of maintaining your driving record, the court may not be able to order your driving record to be expunged. If you want to ask the court to expunge your driving record, it is strongly encouraged that you get legal advice from an attorney. You can also contact DVS directly to ask whether something can be removed or sealed from your driving record through DVS.

What criminal court information is public?

The type of crime charged, your name, the name of the court that convicted or dismissed the charges, the date of conviction or dismissal, a description of the sentence served, if any, and other details of the crime and court process.

Can employers and landlords check my state criminal court record?

Yes. In MN, any person can search District Court records.
 

The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) also maintains criminal records, and law enforcement agencies throughout the state report information to the BCA. The BCA has a "statewide" computerized record of criminal cases, made up of public and private records. Employers or landlords can access the public records, and with written permission from you before doing the search, they may also see your private criminal record. The BCA private records include juvenile criminal history, and may also include details about when you were arrested. Contact the BCA directly to learn more about their policies and procedures on records.

If my criminal court case was dismissed, do I have a criminal record

Yes. You have a public criminal record that says you were charged with a crime and that your charge was later dismissed.

Are juvenile delinquency court records public?

In MN, most juvenile delinquency cases are not viewable by the public. If the offense would be a felony if committed by an adult, and if the juvenile was at least 16 years old when the offense occurred, that record may be viewed by the public.

Can juvenile delinquency records be expunged?

It is possible for juvenile delinquency records to be expunged, but the forms and procedures for expunging a juvenile case are different than the general criminal expungement forms and procedures discussed here. The MN Judicial Branch does not publish forms for petitioning for juvenile delinquency records to be expunged. If you would like to ask for your juvenile records to be expunged, you may be able to get forms from an attorney or a legal publisher, or you could check with your local court administrator to find out if they have juvenile expungement forms at your county courthouse. Your local law library may also have sample juvenile expungement forms.

My arrest and conviction happened 10 years ago. When does this information drop off my court criminal record?

All MN District Court records are viewable by the public and remain on your record unless sealed by law or court order or destroyed per MN Judicial Branch retention schedules.

What is a “full expungement”?

If your case meets the requirements under the law, the court has the authority to seal court records as well as records held by many government agencies. This is commonly referred to as a "full expungement," and the records held not only by the court, but also by the police, prosecutor’s office, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and/or other government agencies can be ordered to be sealed.

What is a “partial expungement”?

A judge only has the authority to order other government agencies to seal their records when a case meets the requirements of Minn. Stat. § 609A.02 (see "Does my case qualify for a full expungement?" below for more information). If a case does not meet these requirements (for example, not enough time has passed since you were discharged from probation), the judge still has the discretion to order the court records alone to be sealed.

If you are granted a partial expungement and your court records are sealed, records held by other government agencies will still be public information. Depending on what records a particular background check looks at, a partial expungement of your court records may or may not help you with getting employment, housing, etc. If you are not sure whether a partial expungement will be helpful in your situation, it is a good idea to get some legal advice.

Does my case qualify for a full expungement?

Minn. Stat. ch. § 609A is that law that talks about the criminal expungement process. Even if your case meets the requirements under the law, the judge makes the final decision on whether or not to seal your case(s) and whether to order a full or partial expungement. If you want to know what might happen in your case or whether your case(s) qualifies for a full or partial expungement, you are strongly encouraged to get legal advice from an attorney.

NOTE: Expungement is never allowed in cases where registration as a predatory offender is required (Minn. Stat. 609A.02, subd. 4).

Minn. Stat. § 609A.02 lists the specific situations when a court has the authority to seal all government-held records (full expungement). The list includes:

  • some first-time drug possession offenses resolved under certain laws;
  • offenses committed by juveniles who were prosecuted in adult criminal court;
  • cases that were resolved in your favor (for example, you were found not guilty or the case was dismissed); and
  • some offenses with convictions (for example, you pleaded guilty or were found guilty).

Non-Felonies:

Convictions for petty misdemeanors, misdemeanors, and gross misdemeanors may be eligible for full expungement depending on:

  • what crime you were convicted of;
  • how much time has passed since your sentence was discharged; and
  • other cases that are on your criminal history.

Felonies:

Minn. Stat. § 609A.02, subd. 3 lists the specific types of felony crimes that may qualify for full expungement.

If you have a conviction on your record, you may qualify for a full expungement in the following circumstances:

  • Stay of Adjudication or Diversion Program: You successfully completed the terms of a diversion program or stay of adjudication, and you have not been charged with a new crime for at least one year since you completed the diversion program or stay of adjudication;
  • Petty Misdemeanor or Misdemeanor: You were convicted of or received a stayed sentence for a petty misdemeanor or misdemeanor and you have not been convicted of a new crime for at least two years since the discharge of the sentence;

  • Gross Misdemeanor: You were convicted of or received a stayed sentence for a gross misdemeanor and you have not been convicted of a new crime for at least four years since the discharge of the sentence; or

  • Felony: You were convicted of or received a stayed sentence for a qualifying felony and you have not been convicted of a new crime for at least five years since the discharge of the sentence.

If I meet the requirements for a full expungement, will my expungement request be granted?

There is no guarantee that the judge will grant an expungement, even if your case technically qualifies for a "full expungement." You need to prove to the judge that the benefit to you in sealing your case is at least equal to the disadvantage to the public in not being able to see your criminal record. In making this decision the court uses the following factors:

  • The nature and severity of the underlying crime;
  • The risk, if any, you may pose to individuals or society;
  • The length of time since the crime happened;
  • The steps you have taken to rehabilitate yourself following the crime;
  • Aggravating or mitigating factors (what was happening at the time) related to the crime, including your level of participation and context and circumstances of the crime;
  • The reasons you are asking for expungement, including your attempts to obtain employment, housing, or other necessities;
  • Your entire criminal record;
  • Your record of employment and community involvement;
  • The recommendations of interested law enforcement, prosecutorial, and corrections officials;
  • The recommendations of victims or whether victims of the underlying crime were minors;
  • The efforts you are making now or have made in the past to pay any outstanding restitution; and
  • Other factors deemed relevant by the court.

Expungement involves completing court forms, serving them on agencies who have records of your case, filing paperwork with the court, and typically, having a court hearing. The process takes at least 4-6 months. If you do not understand the forms or procedures for expungement, it is a good idea to talk to a lawyer.

Will I have to pay a filing fee for my expungement request?

A filing fee is not required for cases that were resolved in your favor. This includes cases where you were not convicted, not found guilty, and did not plead guilty, or you were exonerated under Minn. Stat. § 590.11. 

A filing fee is required for cases where you were found guilty by the court or entered a guilty plea, even if you were not convicted or that conviction was later vacated. See Minn. Stat. § 609A.03.

How do I request a criminal expungement?
The MN Judicial Branch has created a helpful video on How to File for a Criminal Expungement to explain the process, including how to fill out the forms and complete service and filing.

You can also visit the Forms tab to learn more about the steps you need to complete to ask for expungement.
Where can I get help from an attorney with filing for expungement?
You can ask for an expungement on your own, but it is a complex process. You may want to consider looking for an attorney to help you. If you have a lower income, you may be eligible for help from legal aid offices or volunteer attorneys. You also have the right to talk to or hire a private attorney. If free legal help is not available to you and you cannot afford to hire an attorney, you may choose to represent yourself.

 

What will my court hearing for expungement be like?

You must go to a hearing in court to ask for expungement, unless you get a notice from the court that tells you that you do not have to attend a hearing. At your hearing, you have the opportunity to tell the judge why you need the expungement.

The government agencies you served and their attorneys have the right to object to your expungement at any time before or at the hearing. If they object before the hearing, they often send a letter to the judge with a copy to you. An objection does not mean that your expungement will be denied; only the judge can make the final decision. You should be prepared to respond to concerns raised by any objecting party at the hearing. If you receive one or more objection letters, it is a good idea to get legal advice.

Check with your District Court to see where your hearing will be located.

Appearing in court is a very important part of a case, and all parties are expected to arrive early, dress properly, and act respectfully. Read "Tips for Your Day in Court" on how to prepare for your court hearing.

What happens after my court hearing for expungement?

After the hearing, the judge will decide whether or not to expunge your record, and the court will send you a written decision called an order. The judge has up to 90 days from the date of the hearing to issue an order, and if the judge grants the expungement the record will not be officially sealed until 60 days after the order.

How long does the expungement process take?

The criminal expungement process takes at least 4-6 months. By law, the court hearing to consider your request has to be held at least 63 days after your forms are served to the government agencies. The judge then has up to 90 days from the date of the hearing to make a decision on your case. If the judge grants the expungement, another 60 days will pass before the court can seal your record.

Can a sealed case be reopened?
Sealed cases can be reopened in certain types of employment checks, including checks done by criminal justice agencies, human services, and Department of Education jobs. Sealed cases can also be reopened for criminal investigations and for sentencing or probations services, or for other reasons by a court order. If you need to gain access to documents in your sealed criminal case, you make that request by filling out the  Petition for Access to Confidential or Sealed File and the Order for Access to Confidential or Sealed File.

 

The MN Department of Human Services disqualified me from working in a direct care job. What can I do?
By law, the state is required to do background checks on people who want to work in "direct care" jobs, such as jobs in healthcare, child care, foster care, or nursing homes. Certain offenses on a criminal record can disqualify someone from being able to work in this kind of job for a period of time, or sometimes even permanently. See Minn. Stat. § 245C.15.

If the MN Department of Human Services or the MN Department of Health find one or more of these criminal offenses when they run a background check on you, they will send you a disqualification letter with a deadline for appealing their decision. If you receive this kind of a letter, it is a good idea to talk with a lawyer before the deadline passes.

For more information on this issue, read the published by the MN Legal Services Coalition.
Can the court order the MN Department of Human Services to seal their records of my criminal history?

Maybe. See "Does my case qualify for a full expungement?" above. If you would like to ask that records at the MN Department of Human Services be expunged, it is strongly encouraged that you talk with a lawyer.

What happens if my request for expungement is denied?
If your request for expungement is denied, you should get legal advice about your options.

 

What if my criminal record is outside of MN?
The process and steps for criminal expungement vary from state to state, and some states do not allow criminal records to be sealed. If you have a criminal record outside of MN that you want sealed, you will need to look into that state’s laws and consider getting legal advice from an attorney that practices in that state.

If I was arrested but never charged with a crime, can I expunge the arrest records?
A court record will not exist from an arrest where you were not charged with a crime. Law enforcement agencies and the BCA, however, may have records of the arrest. There is a non-court process for sealing arrest records. See Expunge Arrest Records for more details.

 

What is a pardon?
In MN, a pardon is the use of the executive power of the Governor to forgive a person convicted of a crime, so that any remaining penalties or punishments are removed and the convicted person is treated as innocent. The MN Board of Pardons is governed by the law at Minn. Stat. § ch. 638, and its members include the: The board has the power to grant pardons in certain criminal cases under set conditions. If you have questions about the pardon application process, you may contact the Board of Pardons office at (651) 361-7171. This is not a court process, so if you need help asking for a pardon, you should talk with a lawyer.

 

A pardon is different from an expungement. If you are granted a pardon, your case will still be public.

 

Videos

How to File for a Criminal Expungement*

The MN Judicial Branch has created a video to explain the criminal expungement process, including how to fill out the forms, service, and filing. The video has 16 separate chapters, so you can view individual chapters or the entire video. 
 
*This video is on YouTube. The MN Judicial Branch and the Statewide Self-Help Center are not responsible for any content found on YouTube other than the Criminal Expungement video listed above. Videos are provided for general education purposes by the Statewide Self-Help Center.
 

Forms

You can download Criminal Expungement Forms or you can buy a pre-printed forms packet along with your criminal case history at your local courthouse.
 

Get Help with Criminal Expungement

Visit Legal Advice Clinics & Self-Help Centers available in your area. If you have a low income, you be qualify for help from a legal aid office or volunteer attorney.
 
Laws & Rules on Criminal Expungement
The following is a list of some of the laws and rules that deal with criminal expungement in Minnesota. See also Laws, Rules & Legal Research. If you were arrested but not charged with a crime, there will not be a court record for that event. Law enforcement agencies and the BCA, however, may have records of the arrest. There is a non-court process for sealing arrest records. See Expunge Arrest Records for more details.

You can get more help with your legal research at your local law library. Talk with a lawyer if you want to know how the laws and rules may affect your case.