Bonnie A. Sullivan
You have a few criminal charges on your record that are causing havoc on your life. The charges are keeping you from getting a job, gaining credit or being admitted to college. If this sounds like your situation then you may benefit from the changes to Maryland’s expungement laws, which occurred in late 2015.
As the executive director of Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS), we work with hundreds of volunteer attorneys to help low-income Marylanders clear qualified charges from criminal records. While you’re dealing specifically with criminal charges, the process to remove the cases from your record falls within the area of civil law called expungement.
On October 1, 2015 the expungement laws in Maryland changed, allowing a number of new cases to be expunged. In one change, an individual can now seek an expungement for a conviction of a crime that is no longer a crime. A good example of this is possession of marijuana under 10 grams, which was decriminalized in 2014.
Another change was focused on shielding. An individual can seek to have certain non-violent misdemeanor convictions shielded from public view after three years of completing any mandatory supervision, including parole and probation. Law enforcement and certain employers will still have access to this information. An individual is limited to filing a petition for shielding once in their lifetime.
The third major law change was focused on subsequent convictions, which permits thousands of individuals to remove non-convictions from their records. In the past, a non-conviction could not be removed from a record if the individual had a criminal conviction following the non-conviction. Anything prior to the conviction was permanently on the record.
Once a criminal case is expunged, Marylanders may answer “no” to the question “Have you ever been charged with/convicted of a crime?” on certain employment, education housing and credit forms. It is important to understand that expungement can remove cases quickly from government websites (court, criminal and other state agencies), but cases can continue to appear on employment checks for some time because there is no law requiring third-party suppliers to remove the data.
Marylanders interested in searching for any expungeable cases on their record can visit www.MDExpungement.com to search by case number. To date, more than 12,500 expungement petitions have been printed from the website, saving Maryland residents $267,210 in court filing fees. The website guides users through completing the paperwork needed to file for expungement while listing free expungement clinics around the Maryland area.
An expungement clinic, hosted by MVLS and NAACP of Maryland, will be held on June 11 from 9 a.m. – Noon at the Freddie Gray Empowerment Center at 1505 Eutaw Place in Baltimore. This is a free expungement clinic with volunteer attorneys available to walk you through the expungement process.
It can be extremely frustrating to secure work, credit and housing with old criminal charges on your record. There are new opportunities available to clear criminal records to set you on the path to independence, including additional law changes expected to take effect later this year.
Bonnie A. Sullivan Esq., executive director of Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS), a statewide organization serving Maryland’s low-income residents by offering free legal services and full representation for civil legal cases.