Maryland has passed the Justice Reinvestment Act, a sweeping crime reform bill that is coming into law in phases. One of the most anticipated new changes has to do with the expungement of criminal records. Many see it as an opportunity to start fresh, as the law creates opportunity to erase a criminal record where that opportunity did not previously exist.
What is Expungement
Expungement is the ability to have a criminal record, particularly convictions, erased from the public records. The benefit of expungements is that it allows people a better opportunity at a fresh start; the stigma that comes from a criminal record can make it difficult for people to find employment, or other opportunities.
In some cases, certain types of records can prevent people from obtaining federal student loans, creating an obstacle to a higher education. As a result, the thinking goes, they end up back in the criminal justice system.
Expanded Expungement Rights
Many more types of convictions are now eligible for expungement, although there is a 10-year waiting period (15 for domestic violence related assault), in which applicants must have no other intervening criminal incidents. The time period starts when a sentence is completed—not when the conviction occurs.
Other offenses now eligible for expungement are possession of drug paraphernalia, prostitution, and misdemeanor theft. Some crimes eligible for expungement are not even crimes anymore, but are considered civil offenses, due to changes in Maryland’s drug laws. For those offenses, there is no waiting period—expungement can be immediately applied for.
Where there is no conviction—such as where a case is dismissed or someone is acquitted—expungement of the entire criminal record can be granted in three years or less.
These are big changes to the current expungement laws, which now only apply to so-called nuisance crimes, like panhandling or public drunkenness. But advocates say that it is simply not fair for people who have been convicted of generally non-violent crimes 20 or 30 years ago and who have paid their debt to society to be unable to have access to the resources needed to become productive.
Process Can Be Quick
Expungement petitions are filed in the court where the original case was brought. The state can oppose an expungement, and victims are notified, but rarely are expungements denied, so long as the time frames and procedure of the statutes are followed.
The demand is expected to be so high, Maryland legal aid is developing a web site and an app, with tools that will assist people in getting information about expungement. The website will have guidance, and even some forms that people can use.
However, it is important to remember that while the procedure for applying may not be complex, analyzing whether someone qualifies for expungement can be. So it is always best to speak with an attorney before handling any legal matters on your own.
If you have a criminal record, or have been arrested, contact attorneys that understand the entire criminal justice system. Contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your case.