Maryland has a series of new laws that took effect October 1, 2015 affecting people with relatively minor criminal records. In the past, your criminal record was out there for the world to see as public information. Anyone with a computer could see if you were arrested for something, even if it was minor.
This included crimes for which you were found not guilty! It also included crimes the state placed on the inactive docket (the “stet” docket), which means they went away automatically after a certain time period. Even though a person was never found guilty of these crimes, they remained publicly available.
Advocates for the new law argued that these small time records kept some otherwise good people from getting a job. Employers were allowed to see past criminal records, and may not hire someone who had previously been convicted of a small crime. Others argued that is violates our right to a presumption of innocence to keep a public record of a crime where the person was found not guilty.
The new laws aim to change that. Now, certain criminal records are more easily expunged, and certain crimes will be shielded from public view even if they are not expunged.
Here are the new laws, and the details on them (and to find out what you need to know about criminal law in Maryland, read our Free Legal Consumer Guide on Criminal law here):
Second Chance Act – This is the law getting the most press. It allows you to petition the court to shield certain criminal convictions from public view. The convictions are not expunged from your record. They are simply shielded from view by anyone other than the authorities.
This way a prospective employer or landlord will be unable to see that you have a criminal past. The law only applies to certain crimes – ones that are minor and non-violent. And you cannot do it until three years after you served the sentence or paid the fine, but after that point you can shield your criminal record. The list of newly shield-able crimes includes:
- Disorderly conduct
- Disturbing the peace
- Failure to obey a reasonable and lawful order
- Malicious destruction of property worth less than $500
- Trespassing on posted property
- Writing a bad check for less than $500
- Misdemeanor theft under $1000
- Possession of drugs or paraphernalia
- Certain driving related charges like driving without a license or insurance
Expungement of past crimes that are no longer crimes – This law provides that you can expunge your record of anything that is not technically a crime anymore. This one is aimed at anyone with a criminal record for possession of a small amount of marijuana. That particular “crime” was decriminalized in 2014. So it isn’t a crime anymore.
Expungement of certain offenses – This law allows for the expungement of certain crimes you were charged with, but for which you did not get a “real” judgment against you, or get a “real” sentence by the court. The crimes you can expunge now include:
- Any crime for which the court found you not guilty.
- Any crime for which the state enters a “nol pros” (which is an abbreviation of nolle prosequi, which is a fancy Latin word meaning they dismiss all charges).
- Any crime for which the sentence was probation before judgment, commonly called PBJ. But you must wait three years to apply. So it stays on your record for only 3 years. And you don’t get to do this for DUI or DWI convictions. This is a common way to dispose of a first time DUI conviction, and the state did not want to allow that record to be shielded.
- Any crime that the state placed on the “stet” docket. This is the inactive docket. It grants an indefinite postponement. You have to wait three years to apply for the expungement in this case too.
Please note the crimes are not automatically expunged. You have to take action to request the court order they be expunged. There is a form to file, and you should probably hire a lawyer to make sure the process goes as intended.