On May 10, the Iowa Supreme Court rejected an equal protection challenge to a requirement in Iowa law that applicants for expungement (sealing) of non-conviction records must first repay what they owe in court-appointed counsel fees. This surprising decision strikes us as unfair on several levels, and out of step with what most other states provide where limiting public access to non-conviction records is concerned. Rob Poggenklass of Iowa Legal Aid, which brought the case, describes the decision below.
Update: A petition for certiorari is expected to be filed in the U.S. Supreme Court later this summer. CCRC has agreed to file an amicus brief, which we expect will be joined by other organizations on “both sides of the aisle.”
Iowa Supreme Court finds collection of court-appointed attorney fees a rational precondition for expungement
By Rob Poggenklass
In State v. Doe, the state’s highest court held in a 4–3 decision that the legislature could condition eligibility for expungement on payment of fees owed to court-appointed counsel, just as it requires payment of other court debt. In 2015, the General Assembly enacted chapter 901C, which entitles people to expungement of criminal cases that were dismissed or in which the person was acquitted at trial, assuming a few criteria are met. One significant requirement for expungement is the repayment of all court debt associated with the case. This includes fees charged to the court by the counsel it appoints for indigent defendants, which in Iowa are often assessed even in acquittals and dismissed cases. See Iowa Code section 815.9(6).