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Delegate Erek L. Barron has introduced a bill that would permit a petition for partial expungement for charges that arose from the same incident when not all of them qualify for expungement.(File)

Md. legislation would permit partial record expungements

Proposed legislation before the General Assembly would allow people with multiple criminal charges from one incident to expunge the ones that qualify for removal from their record, but prosecutors say the law is cost-prohibitive and comes hard on the heels of last year’s broadening of expungement laws.

House Bill 220, introduced by Del. Erek L. Barron, D-Prince George’s, and Senate Bill 328, introduced by Sen. Joan Carter Conaway, D-Baltimore City, would permit a petition for partial expungement for charges that arose from the same incident when not all of them qualify for expungement.

Current law does not permit expungement of any charges related to an incident if at least one of them has a “guilty” disposition.

When a defendant is charged in connection with a crime, they will often be cited for lesser-included offenses that they may end up pleading guilty to rather than the lead charge, Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger said.

That’s why the Office of the Public Defender supports the bill because it would prohibit unfair judgments from being passed on defendants for charges which did not result in a conviction, according to Mary-Denise Davis, who started the office’s expungement clinic seven years ago.

With the rise of Maryland Judiciary Case Search, an online database accessible by the public which displays limited case records, Davis said potential employers and landlords don’t always understand the different dispositions.

A charge can be eligible for expungement if it was placed on the inactive docket or entered as “nolle prosequi,” a formal acknowledgement that the state is declining to prosecute. But Davis said the average citizen may only see what the defendant was charged with, especially if there are multiple, serious offenses, even if the conviction came on a lesser charge.

“You still get judged because of what you were charged with,” she said.

If a prosecutor overcharges a case, Davis said, the stigma of the most-serious charge in an individual’s file may affect their opportunities in the future.

Last year, the General Assembly voted to allow expungement of convictions for offenses that are no longer crimes and unprosecuted charges prior to a subsequent and unrelated conviction.

The changes have been in place for less than a year, and Shellenberger said the legislature should wait before taking additional steps.

“I think we need to pause all these changes to the expungement laws and see how they do,” Shellenberger said.

The Maryland State’s Attorneys Association opposes the bills, according to Shellenberger, in part because of the complications that arise from asking the Judiciary to process requests to partially alter records rather than a straight expungement.

The Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Office over the summer assigned additional resources to processing expungement paperwork in response to the new legislation.

“It’s really going to be cost-prohibitive to the courts,” Shellenberger said of the proposed legislation.

The bills state that if partial expungement is impracticable, the court must order the record not be included on Case Search or within records submitted to the Central Repository. The court also can authorize the state to maintain the record or limit inspection of the record.

“If the alternative of this statute is to hide [the record] from the public view, that’s not good either,” Shellenberger said.

The Maryland Judiciary opposes the bill, according to spokeswoman Terri Charles, but agency’s position document has not yet been finalized.

A hearing in the House Judiciary Committee, originally scheduled for Feb. 24, was canceled Friday and has not been rescheduled.

The Senate bill has a hearing in the Judicial Proceedings Committee on March 8.