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2024 Legislative Recap: Expungement

Following last year’s REDEEM Act, which significantly expanded expungement eligibility by lowering most waiting periods for eligible convictions, advocates pressed this year for several expungement improvements that are still sorely needed. The 2024 legislative session ended with no substantive change to Maryland’s expungement law, but MVLS presents this wrap-up for advocates looking for a status check on expungement issues.

Violations of Probation (Abhishek override)
The Abhishek appellate case, which you can read about here, severely limits expungement access, essentially blocking all expungement opportunities for people who ever violated their probation. Advocates were hopeful that legislators would understand the devastating impact of this ruling and override the court decisions with a slight change to the expungement statute. Unfortunately, this bill did not make it through committee hearings in the Senate. Until this issue can be solved, nearly half of all Marylanders with otherwise eligible convictions will not benefit from the REDEEM Act.

Unit Rule and Automatic Expungement
Long a hot topic among expungement advocates, the elimination of the unit rule seems to inch closer every year only to be stalled just before the finish line. Under Maryland’s expungement law, the “unit rule” states that only cases can be expunged, not charges. In other words, a person cannot expunge individual charges from a case, even if they were not found guilty, when that same case includes an ineligible charge. An exception now exists for cannabis charges, but the unit rule still prevents many people from expunging charges, even in the event of a not-guilty verdict.

Similarly, the automatic expungement of eligible offenses, or at least all charges resulting in a dropped prosecution or a not guilty, has been a goal for expungement advocates. Such a bill passed in 2021, but does not apply retroactively. A bill to expand auto-expungement to all eligible cases, including the immense backlog of eligible cases from before 2021, was on the table this year. It did not pass committee hearings.

Another bill that sought to eliminate the unit rule technically passed, though it was amended to remove any substantive change to the expungement statute. Instead, the bill as passed only requires the Maryland judiciary to include the technological capability of partial expungement and automatic expungement in any contracts for future system upgrades.

Other issues
Two more expungement bills died in committee this year. One would have expanded the availability of “good cause expungements” whereby a person might petition the court for expungement of an otherwise ineligible case, and have the opportunity to present to the court their reasons for why the expungement should be granted. Supporters of the bill believe this would address the gaps in the current statutory framework, where many people with minor misdemeanors remain ineligible for expungement due to illogical omissions in the eligibility requirements.

Another bill that did not pass would have allowed for the expungement of a DUI when the defendant was given probation before judgment and subsequently went 15 years without a criminal conviction of any kind. Currently, a case of this kind can never be expunged.