- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 23, 2014

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - A Minnesota law taking effect Jan. 1 will allow people with minor rap sheets to ask a judge to seal their criminal records.

The criminal-record expungement law will provide the new option to people convicted of misdemeanors, gross misdemeanors and some nonviolent felonies, Minnesota Public Radio News reported (http://bit.ly/1xdoYiS ). Updated records available to members of the public such as prospective employers wouldn’t include sealed crimes. Law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and judges could still get a person’s full criminal record.

Sherry Niesen, 37, said she she’s determined to move past a fifth-degree misdemeanor assault charge to which she pleaded guilty in 2010. The registered nurse from Otsego said she wants a clean slate for 2015, and opportunities to land good jobs.

“It has been horrific for me,” Niesen said. “I feel like I’ve been crucified for one moment in my life that doesn’t define who I am.” The misdemeanor charge is the lowest-level assault charge possible in Minnesota, and Niesen’s criminal record is otherwise clean.

The Council on Crime and Justice says one in four Minnesotans has a criminal record. It’s unclear how many will qualify under the new law, which gives judges a longer reach than they currently have. Judges will be able to seal records that reside with local law enforcement agencies and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

The law’s backers say it will help people secure job interviews, employment and housing.

“Having a criminal conviction means, you know, that you made a mistake in the past,” said Joshua Esmay, an attorney with the Council on Crime and Justice. “That’s really an event within a lifespan, right? It’s not something that in every case is indicative of some inherent trait of criminality.”

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Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org

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