(Photo by Tyler Waldman)
At the height of the Baltimore Police Department’s zero-tolerance policies of much of the first decade of the 2000s, city police were notching hundreds of arrests a month.
Whether arrestees were charged or not, whether charges resulted in convictions or not, thousands of Baltimoreans were left with the mark of a police encounter on their records.
“If you’re applying for a job, if you’re applying for an apartment,” said Jason Tashea, “good outcomes will follow you, bad outcomes will follow you.”
Tashea, the juvenile justice policy director for Advocates for Children and Youth, learned about Maryland’s labyrinthine rules for expungements and, with University of Maryland, Baltimore law student Jon Tippens, built a web app to ease the process.
Tashea said more people in Baltimore and Maryland search for expungement on Google than from any other city or state.
“People are going online trying to figure out this convoluted system,” he said.
The site was modeled after similar efforts in other states, like Expunge.io in Illinois.
Here’s how it works. (Pardon the legalese.)
Anyone with an arrest more than three years old on his or her record that did not result in a conviction of any offense for which he or she was tried as an adult can petition the court where the offense was tried to get that offense wiped from the books. For anyone between the ages of 18 and 21, the petitioner must present good cause to a judge.
Not every charge can be expunged, however.
Charges that are associated with an offense that did result in a conviction (for example, a not guilty verdict for assault with a drug conviction in the same incident) cannot be wiped from the record. Offenses tried under the juvenile system cannot be expunged, but may be sealed from public view.
According to FBI data for 2012, the most recent year for which statistics are available, more than 214,000 adults were arrested in Maryland. FBI data does not track how many of those arrests led to convictions.
For those without convictions on their record, ExpungeMaryland’s questionnaire asks a series of simple questions about the charge, when the incident took place and the incident’s disposition. Then, based on answers, the user is taken to a questionnaire that will be forwarded to a pro bono attorneys group or other information about expungement. Users can also download expungement petitions and fee waivers straight from the website. If the early questions determine expungement is not a possibility, the site points users to employment resources for ex-offenders.
“We were very considerate that we didn’t want anyone ending in a brick wall,” Tashea said.
ExpungeMaryland has partnerships with pro bono attorneys in Baltimore city and all Maryland counties except Prince George’s, Montgomery and Allegany counties. In the days since the site went live, two more attorneys groups have signed on.
Besides providing a resource for low-income or non-law-savvy Marylanders, Tashea said one major goal for the project is to draw attention to what he says are needlessly complicated laws on expungement in Maryland compared to other states.
“This is a better way to post that than another white paper,” he said.