The logistics of a proposed bill which would allow people with multiple criminal charges from one incident to expunge the ones that qualify for removal from their record were questioned at a committee hearing Wednesday, with judges and prosecutors objecting to the measure on practical grounds.
Senate Bill 328, introduced by Sen. Joan Carter Conway, would permit partial expungements when some charges in a unit did not result in a conviction.
“It’s a simple bill,” Conway told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
Conway said someone can be charged with multiple offenses but once they get to court, whether through a plea deal or other means, they are not found guilty of everything.
Current law permits a person to file for expungement on certain grounds, including acquittal, dismissal of charges, entry of probation before judgment, entry of nolle prosequi, stet of charge and gubernatorial pardon, according to legislative analysts. Multiple charges from the same incident are considered one unit, and charges cannot be expunged unless every one in the unit qualifies.
Proponents from community organizations, including the ACLU of Maryland and Job Opportunities Task Force, told the committee that criminal records cost people jobs and housing opportunities because the average person notices the volume of charges, without looking at the dispositions for the individual charges.
According to D’Anne Avotins, employment services coordinator at GEDCO, 76 percent of her clients have success finding employment when they have no criminal record while only 26 percent of those with a record are able to find work.
“Records dog people as they try to [re-enter] society after having been incarcerated,” she said.
John P. Morrissey, chief judge of the District Court of Maryland, said the final act of expunging entire files is exponentially easier than expunging partial files.
Judges would be required to view statements of probable cause in each case where partial expungement is requested and redact information from the narrative that pertains to the charges being expunged, he said.
Removing the electronic evidence of the charges would also present a challenge, according to Morrissey, because a case is assigned a tracking number and each charge is numbered in the Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS). Even if the electronic record of certain charges could be removed, the charge number is set in stone, and it will be obvious to someone viewing the record that there were multiple charges.
Committee Chair Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, asked Morrissey if it was possible to consider shielding electronic records from public view in the Maryland Judiciary Case Search only, which appeared to be a primary concern.
“The issue of public access to electronic records is obviously of great concern,” Morrissey said.
Prosecutors also object to the bill because of the “logistical nightmare” created by allowing partial expungements, according to Baltimore County Deputy State’s Attorney John Cox, speaking on behalf of the Maryland State’s Attorney’s Association.
“Every guilty plea that we do, we are likely going to be nolle prossing counts as a part of the guilty plea,” Cox said.
The bill was one of several pieces of legislation surrounding Maryland expungement law considered by the committee Wednesday. Also discussed were provisions allowing non-violent misdemeanor convictions to be expunged after 10 years if requirements are met and eliminating the waiver requirement for expunging certain offenses.
Steven Kroll, coordinator of the MSAA, said the association opposes all five bills but would like to form a task force to work with the bills’ supporters to discuss where the process can be improved.
“We’re in favor of second chances, we’re happy to discuss in the future what those second chances are,” he said.
The bill is scheduled for a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee on March 8.