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Expunction, § 973.015 — Application to Prosecutor and Law Enforcement Records

State v. Anthony J. Leitner2002 WI 77, affirming 2001 WI App 172, 247 Wis. 2d 195, 633 N.W.2d 207
For Leitner: Jefren Olsen, SPD, Madison Appellate

Issue: Whether the expunction statute, § 973.015, requires prosecutors and law enforcement agencies to expunge their records documenting the facts underlying an expunged conviction.


¶38. Although the Wisconsin legislature has not explicitly set forth the purpose of Wis. Stat. § 973.015, we agree with the defendant and the State that § 973.015 was enacted as a companion to the Wisconsin Youthful Offenders Act and that both statutes were intended to provide a break to young offenders who demonstrate the ability to comply with the law. As the court of appeals in Anderson stated, § 973.015 “provides a means by which trial courts may, in appropriate cases, shield youthful offenders from some of the harsh consequences of criminal convictions.” But nothing in the language or history of § 973.015 indicates that the legislature intended record expunction under § 973.015 to wipe away all information relating to an expunged record of a conviction or to shield a misdemeanant from all of the future consequences of the facts underlying a record of a conviction expunged under § 973.015.

¶39. We conclude that the purpose of Wis. Stat. § 973.015 is accomplished by interpreting the statute to refer only to court records. Expunction of a court record of a conviction enables an offender to have a clean start so far as the prior conviction is concerned. As the State points out, expunging the court record provides substantial advantages to the offender: An expunged record of a conviction cannot be considered at a subsequent sentencing; an expunged record of a conviction cannot be used for impeachment at trial under § 906.09(1); and an expunged record of a conviction is not available for repeater sentence enhancement.

For discussion of the inherent, equitable power of the federal court to order expunction – an extremely narrow power, to be sure – see U.S. v. Flowers, 389 F.3d 737 (7th Cir. 2004); U.S. v. Rowlands, 3rd Cir No. 05-3425, 6/9/06. But note split in authority as to whether federal court possesses ancillary jurisdiction to order expungement, U.S. v. Coloian, 1st Cir No. 06-1357, 3/20/07.

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