Legislation to allow for partial expungement of criminal records, which gained traction in the Maryland General Assembly last year but was hindered by logistical issues, has been introduced this session with a delayed effective date.
House Bill 840, introduced by Del. Erek Barron, D-Prince George’s, would allow crimes an individual was not convicted of to be removed from the Maryland Judiciary Case Search website even when one or more charges arising from the same incident resulted in a conviction. Normally, the “unit rule” prohibits part of a case from being expunged if the individual was found guilty of any of the offenses.
The Maryland Judiciary argued last year it did not have the technical capabilities to comply with the bill. John P. Morrissey, chief judge of the District Court of Maryland, testified that a case is assigned a tracking number and each charge is numbered in the Criminal Justice Information System, which would leave evidence of multiple charges after some are removed.
“We’ve had extensive discussions during the interim with the Judiciary and have worked with them on making sure the bill works with their timeline on their revamp of case search and access issues the Judiciary’s rules committee is considering,” Barron said in an email Wednesday.
The new bill requires the Administrative Office of the Courts to provide a report to the General Assembly each year detailing cost estimates, challenges and ultimately a plan to implement partial expungement procedures by Oct. 1, 2021.
Introduced last year with the intent of allowing physical records as well as Case Search records to be partially expunged, the version of the bill that emerged from the House Judiciary Committee only applied to records available to the public online.
The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee then overhauled the bill with expungement provisions eventually folded into the Justice Reinvestment Act. A conference committee attempted to resurrect the House’s version of the bill but time ran out on the session.
Barron said the chairs of both the House Judiciary and Senate Judicial Proceedings committees, have expressed support for the bill.
“I think everyone understands there are practical and administrative constraints but that these issues shouldn’t get in the way of the state’s goal of reducing barriers to employment, education, and housing – especially when it comes to non-convictions,” he said.
Second-chance advocates who supported the bill last year argued job applicants are often judged for offenses a court did not convict them of merely because they are listed on their record.
A hearing on House Bill 840 is scheduled for Feb. 28 in the House Judiciary Committee.