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Beginning Oct. 1, waiting periods shorten for filing a petition to expunge certain conviction records, including those for cannabis-related convictions.
Under SB 37, known as the REDEEM Act of 2023, waiting periods for filing expungement petitions for a conviction eligible for expungement under § 10-110 of the Maryland Criminal Procedure Code are halved.
The bill establishes new waiting periods of five years for a listed misdemeanor in general (currently 10 years) and seven years for a listed felony in general (currently 15 years), to name a few.
Additionally, some court fees and costs associated with cannabis expungements will be waived under SB 37. A spokesperson for the Maryland Judiciary said these waived fines do not include an order of restitution to a victim.
In January 2021, the Maryland Judiciary sent a letter to the chairpersons of the Legislative Judiciary Committees outlining the Judiciary’s concerns with respect to collection of costs in expungement cases. The letter cited outstanding fees, court costs and Criminal Injury Compensation Fund fees as concerns.
The 2023 legislative session carved out an exception for cannabis when cannabis possession and use became legal on July 1.
The new law allows individuals convicted of marijuana possession under Maryland Criminal Law § 5-601 to request expungement after the successful completion of their sentence.
According to SB 37’s racial equity impact statement, “the bill’s reduction of expungement waiting periods will likely impact Black or African American individuals to a greater extent as Maryland incarcerates those individuals at disproportionately high rates.”
Senator Jeff Waldstreicher, sponsor of SB 37, said Maryland traditionally has had very limited and conservative expungement laws, and this law aims to catch up to other states that have moved forward to expand their expungement laws and shorten their expungement waiting times.
“No one with a nonviolent criminal record, regardless of race, should have a scarlet letter for the rest of their lives,” said Waldstreicher. “This bill is about second chances, for everyone.”
Mary-Denise Davis, an attorney with Baltimore City’s pretrial unit who was formerly chief attorney with the Maryland Office of Public Defender, said she projects SB 37 will have a “huge impact” but noted that the case In re Expungement Petition of Abhishek I was a setback for expungement advocates.
That 2021 reported opinion from the Court of Special Appeals (now the Maryland Appellate Court) held that a person who violated terms of probation, leading to a court closing that person’s probation unsatisfactorily, could be denied expungement for not having satisfied the individual’s sentence.
“The numbers of convictions that we thought would be eligible might not be as high as we had hoped because of this court case,” Davis said.
Davis said that since she started handling expungement cases more people are talking about the need for expungements, including people applying, nonprofit organizations and service providers.
“I think the REDEEM Act is a great thing for our clients, for the community, and for the state because it allows [individuals] to get [their records] expunged so you’re not talking about things that happened so far in the past for jobs, employment, housing and school,” Davis said.