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State v. Doe

Supreme Court of Iowa

May 10, 2019

STATE OF IOWA, Appellee,
v.
JANE DOE, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Becky Goettsch, District Associate Judge.

         Defendant appeals district court ruling denying motion to expunge record and rejecting equal protection challenge to requirement to pay costs assessed for court-appointed counsel.

          Robert J. Poggenklass of Iowa Legal Aid, Des Moines, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Louis S. Sloven, Assistant Attorney General, John P. Sarcone, County Attorney, and Levi Grove, Assistant County Attorney, for appellee.

          WATERMAN, Justice.

         This appeal presents a facial constitutional challenge to Iowa Code section 901C.2 (2018), the expungement statute enacted in 2016, which creates a statutory right to expungement, subject to several conditions, including payment of all court-imposed costs and fees. An indigent defendant was denied expungement in this case for failure to pay off her court-appointed attorney fees. She argues that condition violates the Equal Protection Clauses of the Federal and Iowa Constitutions because defendants who owe fees to privately retained attorneys can expunge their criminal records, while defendants owing court-appointed attorney fees cannot. The district court rejected her constitutional challenge and denied her motion to expunge her record. We retained her appeal.

         On our review, we affirm. There is no constitutional right to expunge one's criminal record. The legislature created a statutory right subject to conditions. This equal protection claim does not involve a fundamental right or suspect class, so we apply rational basis review. The legislature could reasonably condition expungement on payment of costs in order to incentivize defendants to satisfy court debt. The facial constitutional challenge fails.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         On April 29, 2009, police responded to a 911 call at 3 a.m. reporting that a man was holding a woman at knifepoint at a duplex on Southwest Third Street in Des Moines. Witnesses told officers that the man fled the residence from an upstairs rear window. Officers checked the area but found no suspect and noticed the windows were closed on the back side of the house and the grass below looked undisturbed.

         The officers decided to enter the residence to find the man with the knife. They encountered Jane Doe at the front door. Doe identified herself as the victim but stood in the entryway and told officers she did not want them to come in. Doe blocked the door, refused the officers' requests to step aside, and shoved them as they entered. The officers physically removed Doe from the doorway, handcuffed her, and placed her in a squad car while they searched the residence.

         The officers found a man inside hiding in a closet. They learned that Doe had told witnesses to lie about what had happened and to report falsely that the man who assaulted her had jumped out the rear window to get away. The witnesses' descriptions matched the man in the closet. Doe then told police that she and the man-the father of her child-began arguing after he received a phone call from another woman. Doe said she became upset, pulled a knife on him, and bit his finger. Doe was arrested.

         Doe was charged by trial information with one count of domestic abuse assault with a dangerous weapon in violation of section 708.2A(2)(c) (2009) and one count of assault on a police officer in violation of section 708.3A(4). Doe submitted a financial affidavit and requested a court-appointed attorney to represent her. Doe's affidavit stated that she was a single mother supporting one child and her only source of income was $250 monthly for food assistance. The court found that Doe was unable to pay for an attorney and appointed one to represent her.

         On August 3, Doe's court-appointed attorney filed a motion to withdraw and informed the court that Doe and the State had reached an agreement whereby if Doe successfully completed a family violence class by September 15, the State would dismiss the charges against her. The court approved the attorney's withdrawal and appointed another attorney to represent Doe.

         Doe successfully completed the class. The State filed a notice of intent not to prosecute, which stated that costs would be assessed to Doe. The district court entered an order dismissing the charges without prejudice and assessed Doe $718 in costs, all for her court-appointed attorney fees. The record is silent as to whether the district court determined Doe had a reasonable ability to pay those costs at that time. Doe did not object to, nor did she appeal, the cost assessment.

         Nearly a decade later, and two years after the legislature enacted section 901C.2, Doe filed a motion to expunge this case from her criminal record. Doe still owed $550 of the court debt when she sought expungement, having paid $168. She raised a facial constitutional challenge to the statutory requirement that she pay all assessed court costs as a condition for expungement. She did not ask the district court to determine she had a present inability to pay the court debt, nor did she ask that the underlying court debt be extinguished based on the absence of a judicial finding in 2009 that she then had a reasonable ability to pay the assessed fees.

         The district court denied her motion for expungement and rejected her constitutional argument. The court stated, "In her financial affidavit [in 2009] she signed a statement that she understood she may be required to repay the State for attorney fees and costs." The district court continued,

[Doe] argues requiring an indigent person to reimburse attorney fees prior to expungement, unlike an individual who hired their own counsel, violates the Constitution, specifically due process and equal protection. The Court rejects this argument. [Doe] was made aware of the possibility of reimbursing attorney fees and that expungement could not occur until all fees and assessed costs were paid. This was part of the bargain [Doe] negotiated.

         The court noted that Doe "may still obtain expungement if and when the fees are paid."

         Doe appealed, and we retained the case. In her affidavit supporting her motion to waive the appellate filing fee, Doe attested that she received monthly food assistance of $500 and $426 monthly from the Family Investment Program and that she has two children, with a third due in August 2018. Doe estimated her monthly expenses are $1445. Our court waived the filing fee.

         II. Scope of Review.

         We review constitutional challenges to statutes de novo. State v. Sluyter, 763 N.W.2d 575, 579 (Iowa 2009).

[W]e must remember that statutes are cloaked with a presumption of constitutionality. The challenger bears a heavy burden, because it must prove the unconstitutionality beyond a reasonable doubt. Moreover, "the challenger must refute every reasonable basis upon which the statute could be found to be constitutional." Furthermore, if the statute is capable of being construed in more than one manner, one of which is constitutional, we must adopt that construction.

State v. Seering, 701 N.W.2d 655, 661 (Iowa 2005) (quoting State v. Hernandez-Lopez, 639 N.W.2d 226, 233 (Iowa 2002)), superseded by statute on other grounds, 2009 Iowa Acts ch. 119, § 3 (codified at Iowa Code § 692A.103 (Supp. 2009)), as recognized in In re T.H., 913 N.W.2d 578, 587-88 (Iowa 2018).

         III. Analysis.

         A. Iowa's Dismissal-Acquittal Expungement Statute.

There is no constitutional right to expunge one's criminal record. See Judicial Branch v. Iowa Dist. Ct., 800 N.W.2d 569, 579 (Iowa 2011), superseded by 2015 Iowa Acts ch. 83, § 1 (codified at Iowa Code § 901C.2 (2016) (creating a limited statutory right to expunge certain criminal records); see also Sealed Appellant v. Sealed Appellee, 130 F.3d 695, 699 (5th Cir. 1997) ("There is no constitutional basis for a 'right to expungement.' "); Duke v. White, 616 F.2d 955, 956 (6th Cir. 1980) (per curiam) ("The right to expungement of state records is not a federal constitutional right."). Expungement is a matter of legislative grace. Prior to 2016, individuals acquitted of a crime or whose criminal charges were dismissed could not expunge the charges from their criminal records. On January 1, 2016, Iowa's first dismissal-acquittal expungement law took effect. With clarifying amendments, the current version of the law took effect in July 2016.[1] Iowa Code section 901C.2 (2018) gives individuals who were acquitted or had their charges dismissed the opportunity to expunge the criminal case from their criminal record. Section 901C.2(1) provides,

1. a. Except as provided in paragraph "b", upon application of a defendant or a prosecutor in a criminal case, or upon the court's own motion in a criminal case, the court shall enter an order expunging the record of such criminal case if the court finds that the defendant has established that all of the following have occurred, as applicable:
(1)The criminal case contains one or more criminal charges in which an acquittal was entered for all criminal charges, or in which all criminal charges were otherwise dismissed.
(2)All court costs, fees, and other financial obligations ordered by the court or assessed by the clerk of the district court have been paid.
(3)A minimum of one hundred eighty days have passed since entry of the judgment of acquittal or of the order dismissing the case relating to all criminal charges, unless the court finds good cause to waive this requirement for reasons including but not limited to the fact that the defendant was the victim of identity theft or mistaken identity.
(4)The case was not dismissed due to the defendant being found not guilty by reason of insanity.
(5) The defendant was not found incompetent to stand trial in the case.
b. The court shall not enter an order expunging the record of a criminal case under paragraph "a" unless all the parties in the case have had time to object on the grounds that one or more of the relevant conditions in paragraph "a" ...

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