from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Becky Goettsch,
District Associate Judge.
appeals district court ruling denying motion to expunge
record and rejecting equal protection challenge to
requirement to pay costs assessed for court-appointed
J. Poggenklass of Iowa Legal Aid, Des Moines, for appellant.
J. Miller, Attorney General, Louis S. Sloven, Assistant
Attorney General, John P. Sarcone, County Attorney, and Levi
Grove, Assistant County Attorney, for appellee.
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
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.
Background Facts and Proceedings.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
court noted that Doe "may still obtain expungement if
and when the fees are paid."
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.
Scope of Review.
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
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).
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. 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
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"