Question: “I lost my job during the pandemic and I’m trying to find work. But I keep getting turned away due to my criminal record. What are my options for clearing my record?”
Answer: If you have ever been arrested in Maryland, no matter how long ago, or how minor the offense, there is a good chance that you have a criminal record. And if you have ever applied for
a job with a criminal record, you know how difficult and embarrassing the process can be. Being forced to answer for something you may have done years ago, even a crime you were never convicted
of, is the last thing you want to do during a job interview. Thankfully, the procedure for expunging criminal records in Maryland is relatively simple.
Any arrest that results in criminal charges creates a public record in Maryland that can be easily accessed by anyone. That record is permanent even if the person charged was never convicted of a
crime. Dropped charges (often called “nol pros,” short for the Latin phrase nolle prosequi), dismissed charges, and acquittals are quite common in the criminal justice system. Other outcomes aside from a conviction or guilty finding are placement on the stet docket (an indefinite
postponement of your charges) or a probation before judgment (commonly offered in exchange for a guilty plea). If all the charges in a case result in one of these outcomes, the case is likely eligible for expungement.
Some convictions are eligible for expungement as well. Many misdemeanors such as theft, drug possession, or trespassing, and even some felonies like burglary, can be expunged under certain
conditions. Expunging convictions can get complicated quickly because eligibility is dependent on a number of factors such as sentence length, applicable waiting periods, and the other convictions on
your record. It would be in your best interest to consult an attorney if you want to expunge convictions.
Expungement is the best tool for minimizing your criminal record. An expunged case is completely hidden from public view and essentially treated as if it never happened. You may legally deny
the existence of the case on a job application, and an employer who discovers the case may not take action against you for not disclosing it. Note that just this summer, a new law went into effect that hides dropped, dismissed, and not guilty cases from Maryland Judiciary Case Search, the main website for finding public court records. This is a major benefit for those hoping to minimize their
record. But these cases are only hidden from the site, not expunged, and can be found through fingerprint checks or court record requests.
Other options exist for getting rid of criminal records. Shielding is a process similar to expungement, which hides certain convictions from public view. Convictions for a limited number of crimes can be shielded. Those crimes are all misdemeanors and include disorderly conduct, failure to obey a reasonable lawful order, malicious destruction of property, and driving without a license,
among others. Shielding, like expunging convictions, is relatively simply, but can get complicated quickly if you have multiple convictions. Consult an attorney to get the best advice on how to shield your record. Shielding permanently hides any record of the case from the public, but it
can be accessed on special request by certain types of employers such as schools, hospitals, or law enforcement.
Some people may have found employment despite their criminal record, and never given it a second thought. But there is no way to predict what your next job will be, and plenty of employers will
deny someone with a criminal record, no matter who old or how minor. As people continue to lose their jobs due to the pandemic, now is the time to assess your situation and seek assistance with clearing your record. It could be the difference between gaining or losing the job you
Christopher Sweeney is a staff attorney at Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service. He manages the Workforce Development Project, a partnership with job training programs in Baltimore City that removes barriers to employment for jobseekers returning from incarceration or from otherwise
Have a civil legal question? Email [email protected] to submit your question to the Baltimore Times’ legal tip column