The public's business generally is accessible for public review, including criminal arrest records. The problem is that often teenage misadventures can become embarrassing in later years, and personal indiscretions, or even crimes, are often aired after authorities intervene. In such situations, individuals can request that officials expunge or seal information concerning the incident. The law governing expungement of public documents varies widely across the country, and in the case of Maryland the process can involve requests to multiple agencies.
What Is Expungement?
In most states sealing records prevents the majority of people from accessing the official information, while expunging public records usually means they are destroyed and the incident regarded as if it never happened. Under Maryland law, however, expunging a record does not result in the document's destruction, though it remains hidden from public purview. The information would not show up during most background checks potential employers routinely perform, and individuals legally can answer "none" or refuse to answer when queried about arrests.
However, there is no guarantee that information never will be revealed—various Maryland agencies maintain individual databases, and it is not unheard of for one to inadvertently leave records in the system. Also, one request will not necessarily expunge both court and police records—cases sometimes require separate petitions.
Who Is Eligible for Expungement?
Anyone who was arrested but not convicted is eligible for expungement in Maryland; individuals who were convicted rarely are. Generally, there is a three-year wait after final disposition before records can be expunged, though that can vary depending on how the case was concluded. Petitioners can file early if they can show cause for why the wait should be waived. Individuals found guilty of certain nuisance crimes such as panhandling and loitering are eligible for expungement, as are those who receive an unconditional gubernatorial pardon for one nonviolent crime.
Juvenile records routinely are sealed, so there is no reason to file for expungement unless the matter initially was handled in another court. Expungement does not cover civil proceedings such as domestic violence or protective orders though sometimes these records can be sealed.
What Information Must Be Submitted?
Pursuing an expungement in Maryland is a complex procedure simply because the process can involve several agencies, such as law enforcement, the courts, and motor vehicles, in the case of traffic violations. Petitioners could find themselves filing multiple requests and completing seemingly redundant paperwork. Having an attorney review the case can help ensure everything is in order.
Though the exact documentation will vary depending on whether the filing is with a court or an agency, in general petitioners need to supply the case number, the date of the arrest, the arresting agency, the offense with which they were charged, and the date the case was dispensed with. All requests are filed with the agency that handled the case or the court in which it was concluded.
How Long Does the Process Take?
From the time you make your request, the process takes about 90 days, barring an objection or an appeal. If someone objects, a hearing will be scheduled. If the state's attorney or law enforcement agency does not object within 30 days, the petition will be granted and authorities involved will have 60 days to comply with the expunction order. Petitioners receive copies of the court order, but they should not assume the records are expunged until they receive compliance letters from every agency involved.
The state of Maryland allows pardons for those who wish to restore civil liberties—the right to vote, for example—that were lost after criminal convictions. The process begins with an application to the state Parole Commission. While a pardon officially absolves the individual of guilt, it does not seal or expunge records of the conviction.
Seeking Legal Help
This article is a general overview of Maryland expungement law. The process is complicated, and it is advisable to consult an attorney for advice on individual cases.