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Maryland may become the latest state to automatically seal arrest records of people who haven’t been convicted or charged with a crime. The move is strongly supported by many attorneys and rehabilitation advocates who note that the growing popularity of background checks in the workplace-checks that may turn up a criminal history-is jeopardizing people’s chances of gaining employment. Currently, eight states automatically seal arrest records where there is no conviction. Forty states allow some arrest records to be sealed, but the person has to request it. In addition, in many states the request must follow a specific waiting period-sometimes as long as five years. “If something like that is passed in Maryland, I’d love it if perhaps we could get something like that in New Jersey,” said expungement lawyer Carmine LoFaro of LoFaro & Reiser in Hackensack, N.J., whose work has doubled in the last five years. Expungement attorneys are criminal defense lawyers who help clients clear their criminal records. In New Jersey, arrest expungements are not automatic, but require an arrestee to petition the courts to request that a record be sealed. “In my opinion, an arrest is just a charge, and an arrest under no circumstances should hinder someone from getting a job,” LoFaro said. The expungement push Helping people clear up their criminal records has become a growing trend in recent years, according to the Legal Action Center, a New York-based nonprofit law firm that advocates for rehabilitated criminals. In the last two years, a half-dozen states have introduced expungement legislation calling for, among other things, expungement of minor felony convictions. They are: Kentucky, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Rhode Island and Texas. Maryland is the only state that is calling for automatic expungement of arrest records. Under the Maryland legislation, arrest records would be erased from a state computer database within 30 days of the arrest. Current Maryland law allows an arrestee to expunge a record after three years, but the person has to waive his or her right to sue the police department. “What this statute is attempting to do is put the onus on the state, said Baltimore State’s Attorney Patricia Coats Jessamy, who supports the bill. “If you’re not going to charge this individual, then the record of the arrest should not exist.” According to Jessamy, the bill, which is pending in the state House Judiciary Committee, was a response to growing public complaints about excessive police arrests. Jessamy said her office declined to prosecute about 25,000 arrests last year for reasons including insufficient probable cause, abatement of the crime because of the arrest, and transfer of the case due to its being a juvenile matter. Jessamy said that these arrests have left thousands of people with stained records. “We should be doing everything we can to remove impediments to [a person's] ability to get jobs,” she said. In Maryland, the Baltimore police union has come out against the bill, arguing that it could lead to future false-arrest lawsuits against police officers who will have no documentation to back up their cases.

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