Court orders acquitted Wright County man's records sealed

  • Updated: October 17, 2012 - 8:33 PM

The state Supreme Court ruled that public benefit did not outweigh harm to man found not guilty of child abuse.

The Minnesota Supreme Court ordered that the records from the case of a Wright County man cleared of child abuse charges may be sealed, even though the Department of Human Services and other authorities argue they could be useful in future investigations.

Wednesday's unanimous opinion said that the public benefit of keeping the records unsealed does not outweigh the disadvantages to the man identified only as R.H.B.

According to the opinion, the man allegedly dropped a young child in his wife's daycare in December 2006, causing head injuries and triggering an investigation by Wright County's Department of Human Services (DHS). He was charged with first-degree assault in 2007. Two years later, a jury found him not guilty.

In January 2011, R.H.B. asked a Wright County district judge to seal records of his arrest and court case, listing only his lack of criminal history and employment as a truck driver. The state challenged the request, providing affidavits from DHS officials and police officers who claimed the records could streamline future investigations, and because they show a history of maltreatment.

The judge granted R.H.B.'s request under the state's expungement law, which orders that requests for sealed records be granted if the case is solved in the petitioner's favor, unless an opposing party "establishes by clear and convincing evidence that the interests of the public and public safety outweigh the disadvantages to the petitioner of not sealing the record."

The Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the decision, saying that R.H.B. never specified any disadvantages he would face if the records remained unsealed.

The Supreme Court disagreed, saying that the state "presented little more than generalities" to explain why they needed to keep the records of an acquitted defendant open, and presented no evidence that sealing R.H.B.'s records "would present a unique or particularized harm to the public."

The court also rejected the Appeals Courts ruling that R.H.B. had to specify why he would be harmed if the records remained open, saying that because he was found not guilty, granting his request is "in the interests of justice."

ABBY SIMONS

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