Minnesota earlier this year became the 11th state to enact legislation making it easier to expunge certain nonviolent criminal records.
The expungement process is typically burdensome, costing money and a lot of time. But with the Clean Slate Act, that process has been streamlined and automated for qualifying offenses. To share more about the criteria, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is hosting an expungement clinic Wednesday in north Minneapolis.
“Second chances is a way forward in terms of public safety,” Ellison said at a State Capitol news conference Monday announcing the clinic and effects of the legislation.
“Part of public safety is saying that after you’ve done your time, after you’ve made rehabilitative efforts, after you’ve demonstrated that you deserve that chance, then it should be given. It’s not given lightly. There’s a process.”
The act automates expungement for petty- and gross-misdemeanor offenses if the charge has been dismissed or if a person successfully completed a diversion program or stay of adjudication — a court action that keeps a conviction off your record if you remain law-abiding on probation. There is a two-year waiting period after the discharge of a sentence to qualify.
Violent offenses and a long list of other crimes don’t qualify, such as harassment, stalking, DWI, indecent exposure and nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images.
Certain felony offenses will be automatically expunged, too. That process previously required a person to file a petition, which lawmakers said used up a lot of court resources. Qualifying offenses include those in which a person completed diversion, received a stayed sentence, or has not been charged with a new crime. There is a five-year waiting period after the discharge of a sentence to qualify.
Courts and law enforcement agencies still have access to expunged records. That’s because records are sealed, not completely erased. Once sealed, it won’t pop up in a standard background check. But records are still accessible by the Department of Human Services and other licensing boards for certain background checks.
Crimes that may qualify for automatic expungement include theft, property damage, certain financial offenses and fifth-degree drug possession or sale. More information is available at helpsealmyrecord.org.
Lawmakers passed the act because they said criminal records present barriers for housing and employment — not just for job-seekers but also for employers looking to fill vacancies.
“We testified in support of this bill over the years. We spoke to the worker shortage,” said Jonathan Weinhagen, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce. “The need for workers across all sectors is still very real. Employers are looking for creative solutions, and this bill is exactly what we need.”
State Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, and Rep. Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, sponsored the bill and spoke at the news conference Monday about why it’s an improvement and pathway forward. Long said the previous manual opt-in system wasn’t working. Only about 5% of people who were eligible actually sought an expungement.
“We’re providing this clean slate for our neighbors, for the hardworking Minnesotans who have earned their opportunity and are simply looking for opportunities,” Champion said.
This law is separate from the automated cannabis expungement that Minnesota passed when it legalized recreational, adult-use cannabis earlier this year.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) oversees both types of expungement.
BCA officials estimate more than 60,000 low-level, nonviolent cannabis offenses will be automatically expunged by 2024. Expungements qualifying with Clean Slate won’t be automatic until 2025.
Until then, Ellison said his office will host free informational expungement clinics across the state. The first one is 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday at 1101 W. Broadway in Minneapolis.
Ellison said his office set up a similar clinic back in 2020 during the pandemic, at a time when many people were switching jobs and finding a real need for expungement services because “old convictions were making it hard to provide for their families.”
A woman in her 60s wanted to be a nanny, he said by way of example, but she had a decades-old shoplifting record “which stood as a barrier for her to give back to community when she was well-qualified.” He said his office has since sealed 531 records.
“That’s 531 second chances, 531 opportunities for redemption and hope and productivity.”