Court of Special Appeals Limits Judges’ Discretion to Expunge Records

In an unreported opinion filed on August 8th, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals held that the Circuit Court for Baltimore County erred in granting an expungement of records for identity fraud.

In re Expungement Petition of Meagan H. concerned a woman who had satisfactorily completed probation and subsequently received bachelor’s and master’s degrees, served in the Army, and now works in the social work field. Despite having an exemplary post-conviction record, the Court of Special Appeals held that state law, Criminal Procedure Article § 10-105, allows expungement only for specified offenses like marijuana possession or loitering.

The Baltimore County Circuit Court had granted an expungement based on “good cause,” relying on § 10-105(c)(9) of the law stating, “A court may grant a petition for expungement at any time on a showing of good cause.” The State argued against the Circuit Court’s interpretation of the law, and the Court of Special Appeals agreed:

CP § 10-105(c)(9) ‘does not grant a court a carte blanche to disregard the statutory prerequisites for expungement. Rather, subsection (c)(9) is properly construed as granting courts the discretion to relieve a petitioner of the time requirements set forth in the immediately preceding eight subsections of § 10-105.’

In its reasoning, the Court of Special Appeals relied on its recent opinion, In re Expungement Petition of Vincent S., which provides a detailed legislative history of the “good cause” provision. Vincent S. differed slightly from Meagan H. in that a lower court had used the “good cause” provision to disregard other statutory requirements allowing a State’s Attorney to object to a petition for expungement. Altogether, between Vincent S. and Meagan H., lower courts have been significantly discouraged from adopting broad interpretations of § 10-105’s “good cause” provision.

Read the full Court of Special Appeals opinion.

Read the full Daily Record article.