How Do Expungements Work?Many of us are familiar with pardons because of Thanksgiving. It has been tradition for over half a century for the president to “pardon” a turkey from becoming someone’s Thanksgiving dinner. We all understand that to mean that the turkey is being granted reprieve from its fate.

Many folks are less familiar with record expungements. Expungement is similar to a pardon in that it concerns an individual’s past crimes. With a pardon, you will no longer be subject to penalties for your crime, but with an expungement, you can petition the court to remove certain crimes from your criminal record altogether. For example, if you were previously convicted of theft, you can petition the court to remove that misdemeanor from your criminal record so that you can apply for colleges, jobs, and housing without the black mark of a crime on your record.

Why seek an expungement of a criminal record?

Many institutions and organizations require a criminal background check before you to be eligible to apply or work for them. Having a criminal record can keep you from certain necessities, liberties, and advancements in life such as:

  • Job opportunities
  • Educational opportunities
  • Professional licenses
  • Housing opportunities
  • Relationships
  • Applying for a license for a firearm
  • Government jobs and positions

This is a big difference from a pardon, as even if you are pardoned from the crime for which you were convicted, you will still have that offense on your record, which means you could still be declined from many opportunities and applications. It may even have an effect on your social life with friends, family, and colleagues.

What crimes can be expunged in Maryland?

When it comes to which crimes can be expunged, that differs from state to state. In Maryland, your records cannot be expunged under these circumstances:

  • If you have not undergone your trial yet, or are facing upcoming proceedings.
  • If you received probation before judgment (PBJ) but were subsequently convicted of another crime within three years. Probation before judgment entails the individual avoiding a conviction by:
    • A plea of guilty or nolo contendere by the defendant.
    • The Court defers further proceedings and the entry of a judgment of conviction against the offender.
    • The Court places the offender on probation for a period of time with such terms and conditions as the Court decides are appropriate.
    • If the offender complies with the terms and conditions, at the end of the period of probation, no conviction will be entered on the record.
    • In such a case you may not have your PBJ case expunged. The exception is if the new conviction is for an action no longer designated a crime or a minor traffic violation – the new conviction will not hinder your ability to obtain expungement.
  • If your PBJ is related to driving and alcohol.
  • If, during your waiting period, you are convicted of a crime, unless that later conviction becomes eligible for expungement.
  • If you are convicted of identity theft.

What is a pardon?

There are two types of pardons, though they effectively do the same thing. A pardon is an official document signed by a government official that grants forgiveness to a person concerning a particular crime of which they were convicted. What this sort of forgiveness entails is that the individual will no longer be subject to any penalties for that crime, nor shall they be beholden to any restrictions that may have formerly applied to them due to the crime. It does not erase the crime from their personal criminal record.

A state pardon for local crimes is granted by the Governor of the state, although occasionally a parole board may also hear the request for a pardon. A federal pardon is granted by the President of the United States, and is only for those who have committed federal crimes.

In both cases, pardons begin with a series of petitions from the individual and/or their supporters. From there the government authority can choose to grant or deny the pardon without having to give any reasoning for their decision. Usually, there are many pardons granted near the final days of that governmental authority’s time in office. Their decisions are subject to public scrutiny.

Why should I seek a pardon?

It seems that expungement is the best way to remove a crime significantly from what is effectively your life, so why get a pardon at all? As we have mentioned, certain crimes and situations are not viable for expungement, so a pardon may be your only option. The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services makes a good point, stating:

A pardon has few direct effects under Maryland law. However, it can be useful in helping you to present yourself as a responsible and law-abiding citizen to employers, licensing agencies, and so on. A pardon serves as recognition that you have adjusted well to society since completing your sentences.

This demonstrates  that, even though you may not be able to get your record expunged, you still went through the arduous and sometimes complicated task of getting your conviction pardoned. Depending on the crime committed, this could make a huge difference when applying to a desired job or when you are applying for a loan to buy a house.

Both expungements and pardons can be complex, and if you do not have intimate and expert experience with and knowledge of the justice system and the laws, it can be easy to get lost in the process, perhaps ruining your chances at forgiveness or a clean record. That is why it is critical to have a criminal defense attorney there to keep things organized, and to help you understand the process. They will deal with the legal aspect of the pardon or expungement, ensuring that every opportunity is explored, and every path forward is taken.

At Carey Law Office, our team has helped many clients get their records expunged so that they can move on with their life. To schedule a consultation, call us at 301-464-2500 or use our contact page. We have offices in Crofton, Bowie, or Owings. We also proudly serve Calvert County.