By Marc Emden, Esq.
There are several ways to remove a record of events like an arrest, or a prosecution from your court records in Maryland: they are shielding, sealing, and expungement.
The laws related to these methods are quite complicated, and there are additional laws and amendment that went into effect on October 1, 2015. Add to that the fact that what happens in practice is not exactly what’s written in the law, and the process of cleaning up your record can become quite daunting.
In general, a criminal conviction cannot be removed from your record! There are very few exceptions to this rule, and the convictions that are eligible are specifically listed in the statutes. Thus, shielding, sealing, and expungement are ways to clean up your record when something other than a criminal conviction has occurred.
An expungement is only available in criminal cases. A criminal record is generally eligible for expungement if it did not result in a conviction. A recent change in the law allows for expungement of a select few convictions based on minor offenses or those based on acts which are no longer a crime.
Shielding is most often, but not exclusively, used for Peace Orders and Protective Orders, which are civil cases. A new law that went into effect on October 1, 2015 now allows shielding convictions for 12 specific crimes, including driving without a license, and disturbing the peace.
Sealing is the catch-all category which enables you, as a party to a criminal or civil case, to make all or part of your record inaccessible to the public. If, for example, you filed for divorce, you can request to seal that court record because it contains your personal financial information.
When a record is shielded or sealed, it becomes inaccessible to members of the public both physically and electronically. However, a record that has been shielded or sealed always remains fully accessible to law enforcement officers, prospective and current employers who are authorized by law to conduct criminal background checks of applicants and employees, and certain other individuals, like agents involved in national security. An expungement offers more protection than shielding or sealing: the electronic record is removed from the Maryland Judiciary Case Search and the physical file is shredded. An expunged record, in theory, is inaccessible to anyone, but in practice that is not always true. The record often remains in Federal and private databases. To learn more, read our full article about expungements.