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Partial expungement fails in Md. General Assembly despite last-minute efforts

Eleventh-hour logistics killed a bill with bipartisan support in the General Assembly that would have allowed people to expunge online evidence of crimes that didn’t result in convictions.

House Bill 220, which was amended to limit its impact to Maryland Judiciary Case Search, would have shielded from view charges a person was not found guilty of, even if they were convicted of other charges from the same incident. Normally, the “unit rule” prohibits part of a case from being expunged if any charges in the unit resulted in a conviction.

The amended bill passed the House of Delegates but was completely overhauled in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee to provide for expungement of misdemeanor convictions after a specified period of time if certain conditions were met.

Those provisions, however, ultimately were folded into the Senate version of the Justice Reinvestment Act, according to Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, the committee’s chairman. A conference committee circled back to the House version of the bill, but time ran on the General Assembly session Monday night to get a vote.

The Maryland Judiciary also argued it did not have technical capabilities to comply with the bill, leading to an offer to delay the effective date until 2019, according to Zirkin. But the Amendment Office was backed up and unable to produce the amended version by the end of the session.

“I absolutely think it’s a good idea,” Zirkin said of the partial expungement bill, which he said became a shielding bill after the House amendments.

Caryn York, senior policy advocate for the Job Opportunities Task Force, expressed frustration Tuesday with the legislature’s inability to pass a measure that had bipartisan support.

“Philosophically and conceptually, there was a lot of support for partial expungement,” she said. “It just came down to how do we get it done and it’s becoming increasingly frustrating to advocates.”

York and others told legislators that potential employers or landlords judge an applicant based on a long list of charges, not just the ones with convictions. The goal of the original bill was to allow expungement of eligible charges, but York said even just Case Search was a huge step.

It’s easy to get a criminal record, York added, but advocates are tired of being told antiquated technology is preventing assistance to people seeking to remove roadblocks to finding jobs and homes.

“It was a very clear goal,” she said. “It was sensible.”

Providing funding to the Judiciary to ensure the necessary technology necessary is available will be essential, according to York.

“We’ll be an advocate for the Judiciary in that sense,” she said.

Expungement expansion

Though no version of partial expungement made it through the General Assembly, Zirkin said the other changes to the state’s expungement law would have been a huge story in any other legislative session.

“That provision in Justice Reinvestment is the single largest expansion of expungement law in the state of Maryland,” he said.

The provision is conservative, he said, but permits for expungement of a conviction if the petitioner has turned his or her life around. Misdemeanors ranging from littering to theft and drug possession can be expunged 10 years from the conclusion of the sentence, including parole, probation or supervision. The person must have no new criminal convictions or pending cases.

“I don’t think these things need to hang around their neck like an albatross for the rest of their lives,” he said.

A conference committee worked to identify non-violent misdemeanors to include in the provision with feedback from the Maryland State’s Attorney’s Association, according to Zirkin, who called it the list of eligible offenses “bigger than people realize.”

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