A primer on Maryland expungement of criminal records
Expungement of criminal records is governed by state law.
Did you complete all the requirements of a criminal sentence for a long-ago mistake? You may have served your time and completed other parts of your sentence such as restitution, community service, parole or probation. Or, you may have arrest or related law-enforcement records that did not result in charges, or court records for a criminal charge that did not result in conviction.
Now that you have completed your punishment for poor judgment in the past and gained insight into your previous choices, you may worry your criminal record will limit your options. Indeed, a criminal record may interfere with your ability to:
- Get jobs
- Secure leases
- Acquire educational degrees
- Attain business or professional licenses
- Engage in volunteer activities
- Obtain loans or other credit
- And take other opportunities
The expungement remedy
Expungement is the official sealing or destruction of criminal records. Broadly, the policy behind expungement is to support a person who has paid the price for past – usually only minor or nonviolent – criminal behavior by giving them a fresh start without the baggage of past mistakes. In return, we all benefit from the economic and other contributions to the community the person has to offer.
Expungement is a state-law tool for lessening the negative impact of a criminal record for those who qualify. After a court approves expungement, the person can legally say no when asked if they have had a criminal conviction, with some exceptions. Court and law-enforcement records are not available for routine background checks but may be for certain government requests.
The Maryland Judiciary website describes Maryland expungement law for adults (different statutes govern juvenile expungement). Basically, the person seeking expungement files a petition asking the court for expungement by filing an official form. Certain cases require a small filing fee, while many others are free.
Expungement law is complex, so we provide some basic information:
- To be eligible, the petitioner must meet certain conditions. For example, all charges related to one incident form a unit, and all charges in a unit must be expungable (except minor traffic infractions) or none are eligible.
- If the person is currently a defendant in a new criminal case, they are normally not eligible. However, if the disposition of the previous case was a not-guilty verdict, acquittal, dismissal or nolle prosequi (prosecution abandoned the charges), the person may still be eligible for expungement.
- Only convictions for certain crimes are eligible – eligible misdemeanors after 10 years and eligible felonies (and some misdemeanor domestic-assault convictions) after 15. Maryland law contains a list of eligible crimes, which are mostly nonviolent and concern money, property, drugs, corruption, fraud and others.
- Criminal cases that ended in dismissal, not guilty, acquittal or nolle prosequi (prosecution abandoned) after Oct. 1, 2021, will receive automatic expungement after three years. The defendant may file for an earlier order. For such cases that received dispositions before that date, in most situations the person may file a petition after three years.
- If the Maryland Attorney General objects to a petition, the court will hold a hearing.
- And more
At the time of this writing on March 23, 2023, Maryland legislators are considering several proposed state-law changes that would impact expungement, if passed (including the REDEEM Act of 2023). These proposals include shortening the 10- and 15-year waiting periods, increasing the kinds of records subject to expungement, eliminating the three-year waiting period for requesting expungement of records where there was no conviction, allowing expungement any time for good cause and other proposals.
Finally, the recent legalization of recreational marijuana by constitutional amendment in Maryland requires legislative changes that relax expungement rules in cases of simple possession. By July 2024, the state must automatically expunge all simple possession cases without defendants having to file petitions.