On May 4, 2020, Erik Atas (Zirkin & Schmerling Law) and the MSBA livestreamed Expungements: What An Attorney Needs To Know. This 80 minute webinar explains the legal prerequisites for and practical impact of having a Maryland criminal record expunged. Mr. Atas describes what expungement is and does, the records that can and cannot be expunged, and the variable waiting periods for expungement eligibility. He then walks through the process, from the initial client meeting to the filing and prosecution of the expungement petition. His slide presentation is supplemented with a 40 page compilation of statutes, forms and helpful links which contains everything a practitioner might need to help a client who is seeking expungement.

The General Assembly has recently expanded the range of criminal matters subject to expungement, no doubt in response to the deleterious impact that a criminal record has on Maryland citizens. A criminal record can infect employment prospects, immigration matters, child custody proceedings, and federal housing and student loan prospects. This may only get worse for individuals with criminal records in the aftermath of the COVID-induced economic downturn.

Until recently, the only records subject to expungement were those pertaining to charges that did not result in a conviction, and records of convictions for a handful of misdemeanor nuisance offenses (e.g., panhandling, public urination, and vagrancy). The class of eligible crimes was greatly expanded with passage of the 2017 Justice Reinvestment Act and the addition of Md. Crim. Pro. Code Ann. §10-110. Convictions now eligible for expungement include 5 felonies (theft, possession with intent to distribute, and the 3 burglary offenses), and 25 additional misdemeanors (including, inter alia, second degree assault, CDS possession, and violations of peace and protective orders). As a result, more people are seeking expungement, creating new opportunities for both paid and pro bono engagement.

In his presentation, Mr. Atas reviews the technical aspects of expungement practice which, he says, largely requires only that one reads and understands the applicable code provisions. He discusses the “unit rule,” wait times for eligibility (which range from zero to 15 years, depending on the offense), and petition and hearing requirements. He also addresses the need to manage client expectations. A typical client, Mr. Atas says (after having done more than 800 of these), wants “everything” expunged immediately. A knowledgeable attorney, on the other hand, can only endeavor to have “everything that is eligible” expunged, and will provide a realistic estimate of the time it will take for the petition to work its way through the courts.

Equally important is the prefiling need to fully understand the client’s background and the extent of any past or pending criminal matters. Mr. Atas noted that It is particularly important to know the client’s immigration status, as the expungement of a Maryland record is not an expungement for federal law purposes. He describes some steps that might be taken before filing of the expungement petition to help the client with any post-expungement immigration proceedings, and offers many other tips and practice recommendations.

This webinar can be viewed here. Complimentary access to it and the MSBA’s MSBA’s entire on-demand CLE library is available to all 40,000 Maryland attorneys through June 30, 2020, as part of the organization’s continuing efforts to assist the legal community during the COVID-19 emergency.