Lawmakers have introduced legislation that would address a recent decision from a Maryland appeals court that’s made it impossible for some people to obtain expungement, or the removal of a case from court and law enforcement records.

The Appellate Court of Maryland ruled in 2022 that people whose probation was unsatisfactorily closed are not entitled to expungement. Lawyers who help individuals with clearing their records say that can happen because their clients received a violation for a minor infraction, such as missing an appointment, failing to report a change in address or testing positive for drugs or alcohol.

Right now, the law states that a person must wait a certain period to file a petition for expungement after he or she “satisfies the sentence or sentences imposed for all convictions for which expungement is requested, including parole, probation, or mandatory supervision.”

The Baltimore Banner examined the effect of the court decision in 2023.

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Del. Sandy Bartlett, a Democrat from Anne Arundel County, and state Sen. Jill Carter, a Democrat from Baltimore, are sponsoring the legislation. It would change the law so people would have to wait a certain period to seek expungement after the “completion of the sentence,” which is defined as “the time when a sentence has expired, including any period of probation, parole, or mandatory supervision.”

“It seems pretty common sense,” said Carter, who’s sponsoring three bills this session related to expungement. “If we want people to fully participate in society, we have to make it possible for them to overcome the stigma of their conviction.”

Christopher Dews, assistant vice president at Cornerstone Government Affairs, a lobbying firm, represents the Center for Urban Families, a nonprofit organization in Baltimore that works to strengthen communities through helping fathers and families attain financial stability and success. He said he drafted the language of the bill.

Dews said one of the largest barriers to employment is a criminal record. He said he believes that the proposal is logical and balanced.

Under existing law, Dews said, a state’s attorney or victim can file an objection to a petition for expungement. A judge then holds a hearing and makes the final decision.

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The court decision “significantly limits” the effect of the REDEEM Act of 2023, a new law that cut down some of the waiting periods for filing a petition for expungement, said Chris Sweeney, workforce development manager at the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, a nonprofit organization that provides legal assistance to low-income individuals and families.

Sweeney said he does not think everyone who violated their probation is ineligible for expungement under the court decision. That’s compared to a case in which it’s clear that a judge unsatisfactorily closed out supervision.

But Sweeney said there are gray areas. He said he’s held off on filing a lot of petitions for expungement and withdrawn them when the state’s attorney has objected because of the court decision.

“The legislation certainly I think is much needed,” Sweeney said. “I’m really happy that there’s a lot of lawmakers who understand why this is needed and seem to be supportive of kind of correcting this appellate decision.”

Harold Coleman Jr. lobbied in Annapolis for the REDEEM Act of 2023 only to later learn that he would not be able to receive expungement because of the court decision. His record includes convictions for burglary from the 1990s when he said he was experiencing homelessness in Baltimore.

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Coleman, 54, a maintenance worker for the Maryland Transportation Authority who lives in Reisterstown, said he was disappointed. He said he did not think legislators intended for that result.

“I think that it needs to be addressed,” Coleman said. “That’s for sure.”

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