EXPUNGEMENT AND THE EFFECT OF A CRIMINAL RECORD
If you’ve ever applied for a job or filled out a housing application, you’ve likely encountered the question, “Have you ever been arrested for or convicted of a criminal offense?” Those with an arrest or conviction in their past can have a harder time facing some of those usual life changes. One way to make the process easier is to get your record expunged. But what does that mean exactly?
THE EFFECT OF HAVING A CRIMINAL RECORD
A criminal record, even one that did not result in a conviction, can be a serious barrier to many opportunities in life, especially with regard to employment. One study found that 73% of employers conduct criminal background checks for all job applicants. In fact, the majority of credible empirical research indicates that a criminal record has a significant negative effect on the hiring outcomes of ex-offenders. One study suggests that the negative effect of a criminal record with regard to hiring outcomes is even greater for blacks or African Americans.
WHAT IS EXPUNGEMENT?
Expungement is basically the legal process by which all records pertaining to a particular criminal and/or serious traffic case are removed from the public domain and destroyed. The records that are subject to an expungement order include those maintained by the Court, the Office of the State’s Attorney, local law enforcement agencies, the Criminal Justice Information System, and others entities as applicable.
WHAT RECORDS CAN BE EXPUNGED?
The final disposition or outcome of a case determines if and when a criminal record can be expunged. Unfortunately, a guilty finding cannot be expunged absent a pardon from the Governor. On the other hand, a disposition of nolle prosequi, stet, probation before judgement, and not guilty can be expunged, depending in some cases on how much time has elapsed since the date of disposition or when the case was decided. For example, if a nolle prosequi (i.e., a dismissal) was entered in your case as to the sole charge or all charges, then you may immediately file for an expungement unless you have any pending criminal and/or serious traffic charges.
WHAT ABOUT RECORDS THAT CANNOT BE EXPUNGED?
As discussed above, a guilty finding cannot be expunged absent a pardon from the Governor. However, Maryland recently adopted a new law called the Second Chance Act, part of which allows you to “shield” certain criminal records that contain a guilty finding from the general public. Under the new law, guilty findings for the following offenses are subject to shielding: disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace, failing to obey the order of a law enforcement officer, malicious destruction of property, trespassing on posted property, possessing a controlled dangerous substance, possession of drug paraphernalia, driving without a license, driving while suspended, and driving while uninsured. There are, of course, certain limitations and conditions with regard to shielding. Therefore, you should consult a criminal defense attorney to see if your case is eligible for shielding.
DO I NEED AN ATTORNEY FOR AN EXPUNGEMENT?
While an attorney can assist you in many ways with regard to expungement, hiring one is not necessary. An attorney can help you by correctly completing the necessary paperwork, reviewing your criminal record for expungement eligibility, and ensuring that each government agency involved with your case has complied with the order for expungement. However, many folks do not hire attorneys for an expungement and are able to complete the process on their own.