Jane Doe, an indigent woman, was denied expungement for failure to pay court-appointed attorney fees. Doe argued that her equal protection rights were violated because defendants who owe fees to privately retained attorneys can expunge their criminal records, while defendants owing court-appointed attorney fees cannot.
While the court acknowledged the disparate treatment, it held there was no constitutional right to expungement of a criminal record. Because expungement is not a fundamental right, the court applied rational basis review to the Iowa expungement law. The court found that because the state has an interest in collecting court debt, it could impose conditions on expungements to motivate people to pay their court debt. The court deemed the payment of court debt a reasonable condition. It ultimately held that the requirement to pay court costs such as court-appointed attorney fees prior to expungement is rationally related to the government interest in collecting court debt. The court therefore affirmed the district court’s ruling denying Ms. Doe’s motion to expunge her record.
Three justices dissented from the majority opinion. Two justices would have remanded the case for the district court to determine Ms. Doe’s reasonable ability to pay the attorney fees. One justice would have found that, as applied to Ms. Doe, the law is violative of equal protection because the law irrationally discriminates between debts owed to court-appointed counsel and debts owed to private counsel.
Ms. Doe petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari. The petition was docketed on August 8, 2019. The petition and supporting briefs have been distributed for Conference.