The Minnesota Supreme Court has now clarified certain aspects of Minnesota’s expungement law. The issue is whether a criminal felony conviction, not able to be expunged on its own, can nonetheless be expunged if the conviction was deemed to be a misdemeanor under Minnesota law. One side of the argument says the answer is “yes” because the conviction is for a misdemeanor. The other side of the argument says the answer is “no” because the person was originally convicted of a felony. The Minnesota Supreme Court answered this question with a “no” – there is no opportunity for expungement of a felony conviction unless the particular crime appears on an enumerated list of felonies contained within the expungement statute itself—even if the crime is deemed to be a misdemeanor under Minnesota law.
The case, State v. S.A.M., A15-0950 (Minn. Mar. 15, 2017), involved the crime of second-degree burglary, a felony. The defendant pled guilty, received a stay of imposition, and successfully completed probation after three years. Therefore, under Minnesota law, the conviction was “deemed” a misdemeanor. Nevertheless, the petition for expungement was denied because the judge concluded that the conviction was actually for a felony. The Minnesota Supreme agreed with this reasoning, thereby denying the defendant the opportunity to have the expungement petition even heard by the court.
Three justices dissented. These Justices noted that, by “deeming” a conviction to be a misdemeanor, the legislature did not want the crime to be treated like a felony but wanted to give the person a second chance. The majority opinion seems to cut against this intent. It is also noteworthy that the majority ruling may take away certain incentives for criminal defendants to plead guilty to a crime. If a felony conviction could be expunged later in life if it is “deemed” a misdemeanor, a defendant may have more incentive to plead guilty and become rehabilitated. This incentive is now gone.