New Law Allows Certain Criminal Charges to Be Expunged or Shielded

When a criminal defendant has served a sentence, completed probation, or paid the fines, the repercussions from sentencing can follow him or her for years to come. That is because even after the price has been paid and civil rights restored, many people find the public record of what happened to them preventing them from finding housing or employment.

Public Records Can Create Problems

Public records of convictions can hamper someone’s ability to get a job and affect anything that requires background checks. Defendants who may feel they are innocent, but take a deal to mitigate punishment, still have the conviction on their record. Even those who may have had charges dismissed often find the interaction with the criminal justice system on their records.

Certainly, the public as well as employers deserve to know if someone has a criminal history, and background checks serve an integral purpose to keeping us all safe. But for many, the stigma of a criminal history can prevent them from making a fresh start.

New Law Allows Fresh Starts

Maryland has now passed a law that makes it easier for those who are convicted of a crime to expunge or hide criminal histories. For certain offenses the law allows a public record to be “shielded,” which means that it will be hidden from public view (and thus, any employer doing a background check), but will still be available to law enforcement.

For other charges, and for those who had charges completely dismissed, the record can be expunged, or completely erased. Charges relating to certain offenses that are now considered “non-criminal,” such as possession of small amounts of cannabis, are also able to be expunged.

The law will apply to non-violent offenses, such as destruction of property, possession of marijuana and other dangerous substances, and prostitution. Theft-related offenses are not covered under the new law.

Awareness of Recidivism

The law was spurred by the new effort nationally (as we discussed here on the blog a few weeks ago) to reduce the rate of recidivism (repeat offenders). The hope is that those who are able to obtain gainful employment after prison or parole are less likely to re-enter the criminal justice system. Maryland is not alone. At least 31 states have passed similar laws since 2009, designed to assist people in re-entering the job market.

Not everybody favors the new law. Many employers have expressed concern over the ability to fully vet their potential hires. But many are taking advantage of the new law, some even lining up for “expungement fairs,” where those who qualify can get assistance from legal aid organizations in shielding their records.

You may be able to clean up your public record or avoid any criminal record at all with the right criminal defense. Contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your rights.