Minnesota Expungement Laws

The basics of Minnesota's expungement laws, eligible criminal records, and how the process works.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated January 12, 2024

Minnesota offers a few methods for expunging criminal records, including a petition process, prosecutor agreement, and automatic expungement. Each process comes with different eligibility requirements. These laws apply to conviction and non-conviction records, including many felonies.

This article will provide a brief overview of Minnesota's expungement laws for adult criminal convictions. (Different procedures apply for juvenile delinquency records. Learn more about juvenile records on the Minnesota Judicial Branch website.)

Understanding Expungement of Criminal Records in Minnesota

Every state defines expungement differently. In Minnesota, the term expungement refers to sealing qualifying criminal records from public view. Records are not physically destroyed or deleted.

What Is the Legal Effect of Expunging or Sealing a Criminal Record?

While sealing or expunging a criminal record doesn't completely get rid of it, it does prevent public access to that record. For instance, when filling out housing, loan, and most job applications that ask if the person has a criminal record, the person can legally answer "no" to that question regarding their expunged or sealed records. If a business or individual requests a background check from a government agency, the agency must state that no public record exists.

Who Can See Expunged or Sealed Records?

Courts and agencies don't destroy expunged adult records because they may be accessed at a later time—but only under certain circumstances.

For the most part, the law allows their use in any future criminal charging and sentencing decisions. Also, certain employers and professional licensing agencies may be permitted to see sealed records in background checks. For example, someone who wants to work for law enforcement, a school, or a childcare facility would likely be subject to a full background check, as would someone applying for a license to practice law.

Records expunged based on mistaken identity are not available for the above purposes. The same applies to automatically expunged cannabis records.

(Minn. Stat. §§ 609A.01, 609A.017, 609A.03, 609A.055 (2024).)

Eligibility for Expunging Adult Criminal Records in Minnesota

Eligibility for expungement depends on several factors:

  • the offense level and type (such as misdemeanor and theft)
  • the result of the case (dismissed, convicted, pardoned)
  • whether the person has subsequent convictions, and
  • the length of time since the case was resolved or the sentence was completed.

Minnesota has different expungement procedures depending on the type of offense:

  • automatic expungement for certain cannabis offenses
  • automatic expungement for criminal records due to mistaken identity
  • automatic expungement for qualifying records (Clean Slate to start in January 2025)
  • petition expungement for qualifying records, and
  • prosecutor-agreed expungement (no petition required).

Below are brief descriptions of these various expungement processes.

Automatic Expungement in Minnesota

Minnesota courts and criminal justice agencies automatically expunge certain types of criminal records. If a record qualifies for automatic expungement, the person won't need to take any action. (These automated systems were recently enacted (2023), so it may take some time for eligible records to be identified and sealed.)

Automatic Expungement for Certain Cannabis Offenses

The Minnesota Legislature directed the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) to identify and expunge prior convictions and records related to specific cannabis charges, including convictions and stayed sentences for possessing small amounts of marijuana (which are no longer crimes). Certain cannabis charges resolved in a person's favor (dismissal, acquittals) may also qualify for automatic expungement.

A person doesn't need to take any action for automatic expungement of these cannabis records. However, the Minnesota Judicial Branch allows a person to file a petition with the court requesting automatic expungement (and it's free). The petition lists all the statutory sections that will qualify for automatic expungement. (The BCA estimates that automatic expungements will begin in mid-2024.)

The state also created a Cannabis Expungement Board to review expungement eligibility and possible resentencing options for nonviolent felony cannabis possession convictions.

(Minn. Stat. §§ 609A.055, 609A.06 (2024).)

Automatic Expungement of Mistaken Identity Records

A person's identity may be incorrectly associated with a criminal record due to identity theft, misidentification, or recording errors. If any of these situations apply, the prosecutor must notify the court and the court must issue an expungement order automatically (no petition required). An expungement order under this section should restore the person to their status before any arrest records or charges were filed.

(Minn. Stat. § 609A.017 (2024).)

Clean Slate Expungement to Start in 2025

Clean slate expungement will go into effect on January 1, 2025. This automatic expungement process will replace some of the petition-based expungements (described below). Once in place, the system should automatically expunge records if:

  • the person's charges were dismissed or resolved in their favor
  • the person completed (1) a diversion program or stay-of-adjudication probation term for a qualifying misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor offense and (2) a one-year wait period without subsequent charges being filed, or
  • the person was convicted of a qualifying offense, finished their sentence and applicable wait period, remained law abiding, and has no pending charges.

Certain conviction records won't qualify for automatic expungement, including DWIs, traffic and parking offenses, and domestic violence-related offenses. For offenses that do qualify, a person must wait two to five years following completion of their sentence. Find more information in section 609A.015.

(Minn. Stat. § 609A.015 (2024).)

Petition-Based Expungement in Minnesota

For records that don't (or don't yet) qualify for automatic expungement, a person may qualify for petition-based expungement (a court process) or a shortcut known as prosecutor-agreed expungements. These processes apply to both non-conviction and conviction records.

Who Is Eligible for Petition-Based Expungement in MN?

The following individuals may petition (ask) the court to expunge their criminal records:

  • first-time drug offenders who had possession charges dismissed under section 152.18
  • juveniles prosecuted as adults after completing their probation or sentence
  • people whose criminal proceedings were resolved in their favor (such as dismissal, acquittal, or exoneration), and
  • people who successfully completed a diversion or stay-of-adjudication program and a one-year wait period with no new criminal charges.

The law also allows individuals with the following conviction records to ask for an expungement once they've completed their sentence and remained law abiding (no new convictions) for a set period of time. The following wait periods start after the person completes their sentence:

  • for a petty misdemeanor or misdemeanor conviction: 2 years
  • for a gross misdemeanor conviction: 3 years, and
  • for qualifying felony convictions: 4 years.

A list of more than 50 qualifying felonies can be found in section 609A.02. Many of these qualifying felonies are nonviolent offenses. Any felony that requires sex offender registration cannot be expunged.

(Minn. Stat. § 609A.02 (2024).)

How Do You Petition for Expungement?

A person whose record qualifies for expungement needs to fill out paperwork (the petition), file the petition and pay a fee to the court, send copies of the petition to the prosecutor's office, and attend a court hearing.

Expungement is not guaranteed. The judge will make the final call after deciding that the advantages of sealing the record for the petitioner outweigh the disadvantages to public safety. The judge will consider the severity of the crime, how long ago the crime happened, what steps the petitioner has taken toward rehabilitation, and the reasons for expungement, among other factors.

(Minn. Stat. § 609A.03 (2024).)

What Is a Prosecutor-Agreed Expungement?

As an alternative to the court-petition process, the prosecutor may agree to an expungement. A person needs to apply with the prosecutor's office that tried the case. The person will still need to qualify and meet the wait period requirement described above but can avoid going to court and filling out all the court documents.

(Minn. Stat. § 609A.025 (2024).)

How to Get Help With Expungement in Minnesota

Minnesota's automatic expungement processes are still in the process of getting up and running. If your record doesn't qualify or waiting isn't a great option, you might want to consider petitioning the court for expungement or seeing if you qualify for a prosecutor-agreed expungement.

The Minnesota Judicial Branch has forms and information online that you can fill out by yourself. You can also check out the Attorney General's website for information on prosecutor-agreed expungements. Several organizations offer free expungement clinics, including the Volunteer Lawyers Network. If you find the process overwhelming, consult an attorney who practices in the area of criminal record sealing or expungement.

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