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State v. Abramowski

Supreme Court of Idaho

March 5, 2019

STATE OF IDAHO, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
MATTHEW JOSEPH ABRAMOWSKI, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. George D. Carey, Senior District Judge.

         The decisions of the district court are affirmed.

          Eric D. Fredericksen, State Appellate Public Defender, Boise, for appellant. Ben P. McGreevy argued.

          Honorable Lawrence G. Wasden, Idaho Attorney General, Boise, for respondent. Lori A. Fleming argued.

          BRODY, JUSTICE.

         This case centers on the district court's denial of a motion to expunge a criminal record. Matthew Abramowski was charged with, and ultimately pled guilty to, first degree arson when he was 15 years old. He was charged as an adult, but received a blended sentence which gave the Department of Juvenile Corrections jurisdiction over Abramowski while he was a juvenile. The district court withheld judgment and eventually dismissed the case.

         After the dismissal, Abramowski filed a motion to seal the case pursuant to Rule 32(i) of the Idaho Court Administrative Rules which governs the disclosure of court records. At the motion hearing, the district court realized that Abramowski was not just asking that his record be sealed, but that all traces of the case on the court's repository be erased from public view. The district court entered an order sealing Abramowski's record up through the age of twenty-one, but instructed Abramowski to file a motion to expunge the record to give the State an opportunity to respond to his request.

         Shortly thereafter Abramowski filed a motion to expunge and was given a hearing, but the district court denied his request for expungement, determining that the public interest in knowing of Abramowski's serious charge predominated over his privacy interests. Abramowski then filed a motion to reconsider and presented witnesses at the reconsideration hearing, but the district court again determined the public interest predominated over his privacy interests. Abramowski appealed, arguing that the district court abused its discretion. We affirm the decisions of the district court and hold that it did not abuse its discretion.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         In 2009, fifteen-year-old Matthew Abramowski set fire to his parent's home while they were sleeping. He was thereafter charged with first degree arson. A court-ordered mental evaluation revealed he was-and continues to be-a high functioning autistic with other possible mental health impairments. Abramowski ultimately pleaded guilty to first degree arson, and the district court withheld judgment and placed him on probation.

         On March 14, 2017, the district court granted Abramowski's motion to dismiss the case against him because he had not violated any terms or conditions of his probation and there was no longer cause for continuing the probation. After having his case dismissed, Abramowski moved the court to seal his case and remove all traces of it from the Idaho Criminal Repository pursuant to Idaho Court Administrative Rule 32(i). At the motion hearing, Abramowski requested that his case be expunged and removed completely from his record rather than merely sealed. The district court directed him to file a motion to expunge so that the State would have an opportunity to adequately respond, but it nonetheless granted his motion to seal in part and entered an order that his record prior to age 21 be sealed due to the financial hardship he was experiencing. The court found that extraordinary circumstances relating to Abramowski's autism spectrum disorder and serious criminal record prevented him from securing employment and independent living opportunities and therefore entered an order sealing much of his record. The district court judge who presided over the entirety of Abramowski's case was soon retiring, but stated on the record that while he could not control what the other judge was going to decide, if he personally were presiding over the future motion to expunge he "would exercise discretion in [Abramowski's] case to grant" the motion.

         Following the advice of the district court, Abramowski filed a motion for expungement of his record. At the motion hearing presided over by a new judge, Abramowski argued that all references to his case should be expunged and removed from the record. He supported this argument using the transcript and findings of the previous district court judge. The State argued that the public had the right to know of the charges that were filed against Abramowski. The district court thereafter denied any further expungement of Abramowski's record, citing a predominate public interest:

By his order, [the previous judge] already has granted some expungement relief to the defendant. In a case such as this, involving a serious and potentially dangerous criminal act, the public interest predominated over the defendant's privacy interest. Because of this, I will not grant any relief in addition to that already granted by [the previous judge].

         Not satisfied with the district court's order, Abramowski moved the court to reconsider. Attached to his motion was a letter denying Abramowski's apartment application stating he was denied "based on information obtained from previous landlords or references listed on your application for housing and/or credit bureau report or criminal history reports." At the reconsideration hearing, Abramowski presented two witnesses: Neil Jarski and Diane Abramowski. Mr. Jarski testified that he works as a developmental skills specialist for Abramowski, helping him with his daily living skills among other things. He explained that Abramowski works part-time as a cameraman and volunteers at other places, but that he is generally unsuccessful in finding work, having ...


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