During the past decade, the Maryland legislature has vastly expanded who is eligible to have criminal records expunged and Howard County advocates want to make sure residents are taking full advantage.
The Howard County Branch of the NAACP and Howard County Library System will host a free expungement clinic for residents with criminal records at the Savage Branch Library in Laurel beginning at noon on Saturday.
Expungement is the legal process by which criminal histories, including convictions, are destroyed or removed from court and police records and no longer visible to the public.
“My rule of thumb is expunge everything that you possibly can, because you never know when it’s going to come back and bite you,” said Bradley Shepherd, a Catonsville criminal defense attorney who is volunteering at the clinic.
Criminal records can create a variety of roadblocks for individuals seeking employment, housing, education and other opportunities. A 2017 University of Michigan study found that job applicants without criminal records were 60% more likely to receive callbacks from employers. More than half of unemployed men in their 30s have been arrested or convicted of a crime, according to a 2022 RAND Corp. study.
“The reality is that a lot of people live in this county in insecurity because of past marks on their record,” said Willie Flowers, president of the Howard County NAACP. “The expungement clinic is the only step given to give residents the opportunity to clear up their records.”
Under Maryland law, a range of misdemeanor convictions are eligible for expungement 10 years after the sentence is completed and after 15 years for certain nonviolent felonies. State lawmakers have said expanding expungement opportunities is a top priority this legislative session and the proposed REDEEM Act would cut the wait period to three years for misdemeanor convictions and five years for nonviolent felonies.
Many minor, nonviolent offenses have become eligible for expungement, according to Shepherd, including, as of Jan. 1, residents convicted of possessing or distributing cannabis.
Even if charges were dismissed or did not result in a conviction, records might still exist and clinic organizers stressed it’s important for individuals to learn as soon as possible if they qualify for expungement.
Filing for expungement is simple, Shepherd says, and typically involves filling out and mailing two pieces of paperwork. But while the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services says expungement processing should take no more than 90 days, Shepherd has had cases that lasted as long as 11 months, since the pandemic began.
“It is a really, really frustrating process, especially if you like you needed to have [a record] gone yesterday,” he said.
At Saturday’s clinic, Shepherd and other attorneys will be on hand to assist residents with filling out paperwork and to answer any questions.
“Anyone who thinks they have something on their record should come and inquire about it,” Flowers said. “Most employers are not going to wait on them to get their record expunged.”
To learn more and register for the expungement clinic, visit: https://www.howardcountynaacp.com/expungement.