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  • WisBar News
    December 20, 2016

    Medical Professional Loses Challenge to Court’s Discretion on Expungement

    Joe Forward

    Capitol

    Dec. 20, 2016 – A young nurse who pled guilty to possessing methamphetamine will not be eligible for expungement of her criminal record despite her argument, on appeal, that the sentencing court did not adequately explain why the expungement request was denied.

    Rachel Helmbrecht was a 24-year-old nurse when police encountered her at a West Allis hotel. Hotel employees notified police when a fire alarm was triggered in Helmbrecht’s room. Employees reported the odor of marijuana coming from that room.

    Police obtained her consent to enter the room and found marijuana, prescription drugs, and methamphetamine. Ultimately, Helmbrecht pled guilty to possession of meth.

    At sentencing, her attorney requested that Helmbrecht’s conviction be expunged upon successful completion of the sentence. Wisconsin allows courts to order expungement if the defendant committed certain minor crimes while under the age of 25.

    The sentencing court has discretion, under Wis. Stat. section 973.015(1m)(a)1, to order expungement “if the court determines the person will benefit and society will not be harmed by this disposition.” In this case, the sentencing court denied the request.

    On appeal, Helmbrecht argued that the sentencing judge in Milwaukee County did not properly exercise discretion in making that decision. Specifically, Helmbrecht said the judge did not set forth adequate reasons for denying the expungement request.

    But in State v. Helmbrecht, 2015AP2300-CR (Dec. 20, 2016), a three-judge panel for the District I Court of Appeals ruled that the sentencing judge properly exercised discretion and adequately explained why Helmbrecht was not eligible for expungement.

    The sentencing judge had explained that Helmbrecht possessed multiple drugs, including prescription pills that were not prescribed to her. She had a drug-related offense as a juvenile, and told the officers not to bash meth “until [they’ve] tried it.”

    Although an accomplished nurse, Helmbrecht admitted to long-term meth use, and brought the drug into Milwaukee County. The judge said Milwaukee County has a compelling interest in deterring meth use and punishing those who possess it.

    “The court’s determination reasonably implied its conclusion that the harm to society outweighed the benefit to Helmbrecht,” wrote Judge Joan Kessler.



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