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In re Expungement Petition of Dione W.

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

October 30, 2019

IN RE EXPUNGEMENT PETITION OF DIONE W.

          Circuit Court for Baltimore County Case No. 03-K-13-004361

          Nazarian, Arthur, Wells, JJ.

          OPINION

          ARTHUR, J.

         On March 10, 2013, appellant Dione W. received four traffic citations: exceeding the maximum posted speed (i.e. speeding) in violation of Md. Code (1977, 2012 Repl. Vol.), § 21-801.1 of the Transportation Article; driving on a suspended license in violation of § 16-303(c) of the Transportation Article; possessing a suspended license in violation of § 16-301(j) of the Transportation Article; and displaying a suspended license in violation of § 16-301(e) of the Transportation Article.

         Speeding is a non-incarcerable offense for which the maximum punishment is a $500.00 fine. See § 27-101 of the Transportation Article. By contrast, driving on a suspended license, possessing a suspended license, and displaying a suspended license are all incarcerable offenses. See id. § 16-303(k) (prescribing a penalty of up to one year of imprisonment a first offense of driving on a suspended license); id. § 16-301(r) (prescribing a penalty of up to two months of imprisonment for possessing a suspended license and for displaying a suspended license).

         Appellant requested a jury trial, and the case was transferred to the Circuit Court for Baltimore County.

         On August 30, 2013, appellant appeared in the circuit court and pleaded guilty to one count of exceeding the maximum posted speed. The State entered a nolle prosequi as to the three other counts. The court imposed a $45.00 fine.

         On January 17, 2018, appellant filed a petition seeking the expungement of the conviction for speeding and the three charges on which the State had entered a nolle prosequi. The State answered that appellant was not eligible for the expungement of the conviction for the minor traffic violation of speeding, but was eligible for the expungement of the three other charges. The State explained that the expungement remedy is available only when a person "has been charged with the commission of a crime, including a violation of the Transportation Article for which a term of imprisonment may be imposed." Md. Code (2001, 2008 Repl. Vol., 2012 Supp.), § 10-105(a) of the Criminal Procedure Article). A person may not obtain the expungement of "a record about a minor traffic violation," id., § 10-102(c), such as speeding.

         On May 30, 2018, the circuit court conducted a hearing on appellant's petition for expungement. At the hearing, the court questioned whether it had "the authority to grant a partial expungement." On July 9, 2018, the court denied the petition for expungement without prejudice. Appellant noted a timely appeal.

         Under § 10-105 of the Criminal Procedure Article, a court has no discretion to deny the remedy of expungement if a person has demonstrated his or her statutory entitlement to it. See Reid v. State, 239 Md.App. 1, 13 (2018); State v. Nelson, 156 Md.App. 558, 568 (2004); Ward v. State, 37 Md.App. 34, 36 (1977). It follows that, on appeal, a person's eligibility for expungement is a question of law that is subject to de novo review.

         Under § 10-105(a)(4) of the Criminal Procedure Article, appellant had the right to petition the court to expunge certain police records, court records, or other records maintained by the State if a nolle prosequi was entered, provided that she waited three years (id., § 10-105(c)(1)), which she did. Appellant argues that the circuit court had no discretion to deny the petition for expungement, at least as to the charges other than the minor traffic violation of speeding. The State agrees, as do we.

          In this case, the court balked at expunging the records pertaining to the charges of driving on a suspended license, possessing a suspended license, and displaying a suspended license if it could not expunge the conviction for speeding as well. The court appears to have believed that appellant would be entitled to expungement only if it could expunge all of the charges concerning the same incident, transaction, or set of facts. In the circumstances of the present case, that belief was incorrect.

         Section 10-107 of the Criminal Procedure Article dictates what a court must do if a petition for expungement involves two or more charges arising from the same incident, transaction, or set of facts:

(a)(1) In this subtitle, if two or more charges, other than one for a minor traffic violation, arise from the same incident, transaction, or set of facts, ...

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