Notes from Annapolis: Criminal Records

As a school child, you may remember a teacher’s threat to place a poor grade, bad behavior, or otherwise undesirable piece of information on your “permanent record.”  As mature adults we can now appreciate that the “permanent record” referred to by a frustrated educator probably did not have a lasting or meaningful impact on our lives.

However, the permanent record with regard to judicial proceedings presents a different set of considerations.  Legislators in Annapolis continue to grapple with the complicated issue of expunging or shielding records of criminal convictions.  While this list is not exhaustive and more bills on this topic will likely be introduced in the 2015 session, here are some of the bills that deal with this topic: SB 16, Criminal Procedure – Expungement – Misdemeanor and Felony Convictions; SB 130, Criminal Procedure – Shielding – Misdemeanor Convictions; and HB 244, Maryland Second Chance Act.

Proponents of the concept of limiting public access to criminal convictions argue that after a certain amount of time, a person who has experienced the consequences of a criminal conviction and now lives within the law should be able to be rehabilitated into society without always being judged by past behaviors.  In particular, proponents argue that shielding or expungement of criminal records will enable such individuals to compete fairly for a job.  Opponents of this concept argue that reliable information from court records is a basic necessity for the protection of all of us in society so we know the people we are dealing with and can make appropriate decisions in every day transactions.  It will be interesting to watch how this debate unfolds as legislators attempt to craft language in our Code and strike a balance between these two competing values.