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AG Ellison, partners launch HelpSealMyRecord.org to increase access to expungements

Prosecutors to actively assist Minnesotans statewide in obtaining expungements at no cost — will create more access to good jobs, education, housing

 

October 5, 2020



October 1, 2020 (SAINT PAUL) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and a variety of justice-system partners today announced the statewide launch of HelpSealMyRecord.org, through which prosecutors will initiate expungement of eligible offenses from Minnesotans’ criminal records anywhere in Minnesota at no cost.

Without an expungement, people who have satisfied all the terms of their sentence for an offense that is eligible to be expunged can still have trouble getting good jobs, education, credit, public services, or housing, because these offenses often continue to show up on background checks. People can continue to pay an unfair price for their offenses long after they have paid the price that society already asked of them. Among them are people who have themselves been victims of other series crimes — for example, victims of commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking.

Until now, most eligible Minnesotans who have sought expungements have had to navigate a complicated, expensive system on their own. Some have hired private attorneys at their own expense to do it for them. Many do not apply or are not even aware they are eligible to apply. By shifting the burden of shepherding expungement applications onto prosecutors, HelpSealMyRecord.org is designed to break down those and other barriers to applying for expungement.

Racial equity is built into HelpSealMyRecord.org. People of color are disproportionately represented at every level of Minnesota’s criminal-justice system, including among those who would benefit from expungements, but the cost and complication of the expungement process in Minnesota has made it harder for people of color to succeed in applying for expungements. HelpSealMyRecord.org will rectify that inequity.

“Prosecutors are ministers of justice. Our job isn’t just to win convictions, it’s to ensure that justice is done,” Attorney General Ellison said. “For too long, Minnesotans in most parts of our state who have already paid the price for their offense have continued to pay an unfair price. Their criminal record continues to haunt them when they apply for jobs, credit, education, housing, or other essential services. That doesn’t just hold them back, it holds everyone back. It’s unfair to everyone in society when some people are unfairly kept from contributing to their fullest desire and ability.

“We’re not sitting back and letting people fall through the cracks any longer. With HelpSealMyRecord.org, we’re stepping into our full responsibility as ministers of justice so that those who have paid the price for offending in the past can afford their lives, live with dignity and respect, and give back today and in the future,” Attorney General Ellison concluded.

How HelpSealMyRecord.org works

Through HelpSealMyRecord.org, prosecutors will help make Minnesotans who are eligible for expungement aware that they can apply and will initiate their application, and will help others determine if they are eligible to apply. Then they will shepherd eligible applications through the complicated and time-consuming process for applicants at no cost.

For applications for expungement for offenses committed in Ramsey, Washington, and Hennepin Counties, prosecutors in those county attorneys’ offices will do this work for applicants. For applications for expungement for offenses committed in all other counties, prosecutors in the Minnesota Attorney General’s office will do this work for applicants.

Expungement in Minnesota

Under Minnesota law, expungement means the sealing of a criminal record so that it is not publicly available. All misdemeanors and 50 non-violent felony crimes are eligible for expungement under Minnesota law. An expungement order issued by a Minnesota district court judge seals a criminal record and prohibits the court and state agencies that hold criminal records from disclosing, acknowledging, or opening the criminal record except under court order or as otherwise permitted by law.

According to the FBI, nearly one in three adults in America has a criminal record. Long after people have atoned for the harm they caused and fulfilled their obligations to the justice system, criminal records and the collateral consequences that follow serve as barriers to jobs, housing, credit, public assistance, education, and more, preventing people from serving as productive members of their communities.

Very few of those whose records are sealed through expungement commit new crimes. On average, they experience a significant increase in wages and employment within the two years following expungement. Yet very few people who are eligible to seal their records successfully apply to do so. This is because the process of expunging an eligible criminal record is lengthy, complicated, and costly.

 

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