*Update 2: On November 25, 2019, the Supreme Court denied the petition.
On September 9, we filed an amicus brief at the U.S. Supreme Court urging the justices to review and reverse a decision out of Iowa that upholds wealth-based barriers to expungement. We were joined by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public interest law firm. At issue in the case is an Iowa law that bars a person from obtaining expungement of a dismissed or acquitted case if they owe any court fees in the case. We point out the inequity of denying access to expungement based on socio-economic status: “The irony of Iowa’s expungement law could not be clearer: a law that removes a hurdle to employment and economic security cannot be invoked by indigent individuals until outstanding costs and fees are paid to the state, effectively defeating the very purpose of providing expungement relief in the first place.”
This case arises from Jone Doe’s request in 2018 to expunge her dismissed criminal case from 2009. But she still owes $550.38 for her court-appointed attorney, which she cannot afford to pay. Doe argued the requirement to pay outstanding fees before obtaining expungement violates her equal protection rights under the constitution. She pointed out that had she been able to hire a private attorney, she would be eligible for expungement, whether or not she owed attorney fees. The lower court denied the request, finding that Doe “was made aware of reimbursing attorney fees and that expungement could not occur until all fees and assessed costs were paid.” The Iowa Supreme Court, by a 4-3 vote, upheld the requirement, finding the state has a legitimate purpose “to encourage payment of court debt.” On petition to the Supreme Court, we urge the Court to “grant certiorari and hold that one’s inability to pay court fees may not restrict access to statutorily-created expungement rights.”
We were represented by Ethan P. Fallon and Thomas M. Bondy of Orrick, Herrington, & Sutcliffe LLP, and appreciate their work on this case. The full amicus brief is available here.