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‘Good cause’ provision of Md. expungement law has limits, appeals court rules

Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals vacated a woman’s expungement in a decade-old identity fraud case, ruling that a “good cause” provision in the state law designed to shield old criminal convictions does not give judges the authority to grant expungement for more serious offenses.

The appeals court reversed a Baltimore County circuit judge who found that the woman’s military record and life since the conviction justified the expungement. Court of Special Appeals Judge Donald E. Beachley authored the opinion.

The woman is identified in the 10-page unreported opinion only as Meagan H. She filed a pro se petition for expungement in July 2021, according to the opinion.

At an expungement hearing a few months later, the woman explained that she was a teenager when she committed the crime and that she has worked to make up for what she did. The opinion offers few details of the offense but says the woman pleaded guilty to one count of identity fraud and received a one-year suspended sentence in 2012.

The woman said that she had completed bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work and was a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army at the time of the hearing, according to an excerpt included in the opinion.

“I attempted to get lots of social work jobs to help other children not make the same mistakes that I did coming out of foster care with no guidance or parental help when I made those poor decisions,” the woman said. “I have been unable to get many positions in my field with my educational background even though I have a bachelors and masters degree in social work because of this being on my record.”

County prosecutors opposed the expungement, arguing that the woman’s conviction for identity fraud was not an offense that was eligible to be removed from public view under state law.

The circuit court judge granted the woman’s request under a section of the law that says a court “may grant a petition for expungement at any time on a showing of good cause.”

“I was impressed by her military record and her life,” the judge said, according to the opinion. “I’m not 100% sure I’m right on that, but I believe it’s appropriate and I’m going to go ahead and grant it for those purposes.”

Prosecutors appealed.

The Court of Special Appeals agreed that the woman is not eligible for expungement, even under the good cause provision of the law. That provision only allows judges to speed up the expungement timeline for eligible offenses, not to grant expungement for any offense with a finding of good cause, the court wrote.

The good cause provision “does not grant a court a carte blanche to disregard the statutory prerequisites for expungement,” Beachley wrote, quoting a previous opinion.

The woman did not file an appellate brief in support of her position, according to the opinion. In 2021, she told the circuit judge that it was her dream to be a social worker and help other children coming out of foster care.

“I’ve always wanted to do that,” she told the judge. “I had an opportunity to do it in the military and also in the civilian sector and I just want to be granted an opportunity to try, Your Honor.”