Fifteen years ago, if someone wanted to find out about your prior criminal record, they first had to know the state and county in which you were prosecuted. Then they might have had to go through large books of computer printouts to find your name and the corresponding case number. Then they could request to see your file. Of course, law enforcement agencies also had the ability to check a limited number of criminal record databases. But most people would not have known where to start to see if you had any prior contacts with the criminal justice system. Today, anyone with a computer or smartphone can find publicly accessible detailed information about criminal, civil, and traffic court cases. Maryland for example maintains the Maryland Judiciary Case Search Website. If you have a civil, criminal, or traffic case in Maryland, you could probably look it up right now on that website.
Having a visible record does have adverse consequences. Potential employers may decline to consider anyone with a criminal history. In a post-911 world, background checks by government agencies are more common. Additionally, any private company that contracts to do work for a government office may require a security background check for any employee who will be working on government property. So, even a small private plumbing firm may need its employees to be screened before accepting a contract to do work in a government building. Many apartment buildings are also denying leases to people with records.
If you had one or more criminal or traffic cases in Maryland, you might be entitled to have some or all of them expunged from your official record. Expungement may greatly limit the ability of other people to learn information about your prior cases. Expungement may also prevent certain schools, employers, and government agencies from demanding information from you about cases that have been expunged. Yet, determining what cases are and are not eligible for expungement can be tricky. We have seen people waste time and money applying to expunge cases that are not eligible for expungement. Conversely, we have seen courts deny expungements to people simply because the applicant did not adequately explain the case history, or the applicant’s prior record.
We have helped thousands of clients get their cases expunged. If your case is not eligible for expungement, we may be able take certain procedural steps to make the case eligible for expugnment. If the time constraints regarding an application for expungement have not been satisfied, special motions can be filed asking the court to forgive those time limitations. Be aware that once a case is expunged, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to get access to those records in the future. For example, immigration authorities may want to see prior cases in order to make important favorable rulings regarding someone’s status in the United States. So, it may be important to take steps to preserve a copy of the court record before applying for an expungement.
If a case cannot be expunged, there is also a procedure to “shield” court records from public access. Although this procedure may not remove case information from law enforcement databases, it may prevent the public from easily accessing case information over the internet or at the courthouse. If a prior matter is interfering with you achieving your goals, please call us at 301-251-9001.