Iowa Supreme Court Removes Obstacles to Expunging Dismissed Charges

GRL Law Eraser

On May 22, 2020, the Iowa Supreme Court released opinions in three consolidated cases, all entitled State v. Doe, involving expungement of dismissed criminal charges. Dismissed charges can be expunged in Iowa if certain criteria are met. For more information on expunging dismissed charges, click here. One of the requirements for expunging a dismissed charge is that a person must have paid all their fines and fees owed to the State before the Judge can expunge the court record of a dismissed charge.

That seems simple enough¬- you have to pay your court debt before you can expunge a charge. Determining whether or not a person has paid the outstanding costs in a dismissed case is simple when the person only has one charge on their record. But what if a person has multiple charges and they have paid their fines and fees on some charges but not others? Can they still expunge that dismissed charge? Let’s use an example.
Let’s say Dave Defendant has three criminal charges on his record: an assault, a theft, and a possession of marijuana. Let’s assume that Dave pled guilty to the assault charge and the theft charge. Let’s also assume that Dave paid the fines on his assault charge. Dave got on a payment plan to pay off the fines on the theft charge as well as the money he stole from Valerie Victim but he hasn’t finished paying yet. Dave’s possession of marijuana charge was dismissed, and Dave doesn’t owe any money to the State on the marijuana charge.

Here’s the question: Can Dave expunge that dismissed marijuana charge even though he still owes money on the theft charge? That’s exactly the question that was posed to the Iowa Supreme Court in State v. Doe.

The State argued that before Dave would be able to seek expungement of the dismissed marijuana charge, he would be required to pay all fines, fees, costs, restitution, and any other financial obligations ordered by the court or assessed by the clerk of court in all cases, even if they were unrelated to the dismissed charge. The defense argued that, since Dave didn’t owe any money regarding the dismissed marijuana case, he was eligible to have that dismissed charge expunged, even though he still owed fines to the State and restitution money to Valerie in the theft matter.

Thankfully, the Iowa Supreme Court was on Dave’s side. The Court found that if a person has fulfilled all the requirements of the expungement law, and have paid the fines and fees owed in the dismissed case, they were entitled to an expungement of that dismissed charge, even if they owed money in other cases. The Court found that this applies to all kinds of other cases as well. For example, Dave can get an expungement of a dismissed charge even if they have unpaid financial obligations to his ex-wife in a divorce case, a personal injury case, a landlord–tenant case, a small claims case, or any other civil case. None of these situations would prohibit a person who otherwise qualifies for expungement of a dismissed charge to be denied simply because they owed money in an unrelated matter.

This decision impacts anyone who has been previously denied an expungement of a dismissed charge because they owed fines or fees in unrelated cases. It also allows people to seek expungement who may have thought they didn’t qualify because they still had fines or fees outstanding in another case.

If you believe you may qualify for expungement of a dismissed charge, or any other expungement, call the attorneys at GRL Law for a free consultation.