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 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.
Removing barriers to expungement
Prosecutor-initiated expungement through HelpSealMyRecord.org is designed to remove a number of barriers to expunging a criminal record.
- People often have several cases in different counties, which may mean filing petitions in each county and increasing the costs.
- The period of time an applicant has to wait before filing for expungement varies by offense. On average, these periods are at least two years for misdemeanors, four years for gross misdemeanors, and five years for qualifying felonies.
- Expungement processes can vary by county.
- Many people go through the expungement process without legal representation, which is challenging because the process is complicated and confusing.
- There are risks to seeking expungement for individuals with active warrants or those who are undocumented.
- The fee for filing a single expungement petition is $300.
The Center for Urban and Regional Affairs at the University of Minnesota has documented the complicated process of seeking an expungement in just one county.
Partners in HelpSealMyRecord.org
HelpSealMyRecord.org is a joint initiative of the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office, the Washington County Attorney’s Office, and the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office. It is supported by funding from the Minnesota Department Health Safe Harbor Program and the Saint Paul and Minnesota Foundation. It was initially launched almost exactly one year ago as an initiative of the offices of the Ramsey and Washington County Attorneys. Today, the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office and the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office joined it.
Joining Attorney General Ellison at a press conference today to announce the statewide launch of HelpSealMyRecord.org (which mirrors to the new page on the website of the Attorney General’s Office at https://www.ag.state.mn.us/Office/Expungement.asp) were Ramsey County Attorney John Choi; Washington County Attorney Pete Orput; Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and Assistant Hennepin County Attorneys Nadia Elnagdy and Mike Christenson; Mary Manning from the Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Division of Minnesota Department of Health, which runs the Safe Harbor Program for youth survivors of commercial sexual exploitation and provided funding for HelpSealMyRecord.org; and Teresa Forliti, executive director of Breaking Free, which provides direct services to survivors of sex trafficking.