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There are plenty of facets to the criminal law system here in the State of Maine. Normally, we focus on Maine’s legal definitions of specific crimes, such as gross sexual assault or domestic violence stalking, because our goal is to educate our readers about the essentials of Maine’s system.
In addition to things such as definitions and classifications, readers should also be aware of other areas, such as Maine’s rules on the matter of criminal recordkeeping and criminal record accessibility. In this post, we’re going to take a look at the criminal record challenge process here in Maine, and also discuss a few other related issues.
We will briefly talk about the role of the State Bureau of Identification (SBI), the difference between confidential criminal history and publicly viewable criminal history, pardons, the possibility of expungement, and other topics.
As our post today will show, navigating through the criminal law system in Maine takes a lot of effort, knowledge, and determination. There are so many facts to absorb about so many different areas. Even if someone is familiar with one or two, they may be totally unaware of another, and that might compromise their overall comfortability with Maine’s system.
Here at the Maine Criminal Defense Group, our job is to provide expert legal assistance whenever possible; in addition, our goal is to inform our readers so that they can more capably navigate Maine’s system.
Consider the following scenario: a person is involved in a verbal altercation with another person and the altercation ultimately leads to violence. The person is charged and convicted of physical assault and serves his or her sentence.
Upon being released from jail, this person brings up his or her criminal record and discovers that the record contains a major inaccuracy and reports that the conviction for physical assault was for statutory rape.
Naturally, our hypothetical person in this scenario is interested in challenging – and correcting – this flawed criminal record. How can this person go about challenging his or her factually inaccurate criminal record?
As it turns out, Maine has an established procedure in place to deal with these types of problems. Of course, in the vast majority of cases, Maine’s criminal recordkeeping abilities will be much better than the example given here, but the key point is that Maine has a system for resolving inaccuracies whenever they do arise.
If a person believes that he or she has identified an error or inaccuracy in his or her criminal record, that person can make a formal request to the State Bureau of Identification (SBI) to correct the record.
The request can be made in person, via telephone or via standard mail. After the person notifies the SBI regarding the alleged flaw or flaws, the SBI will conduct an investigation into the record and will then make any corrections which are necessary. In some cases, the SBI may contend that no inaccuracies exist, and will deny the request. In those cases, the petitioner can actually appeal the decision by going to the Superior Court of Maine.
Not only does Maine have an established system for dealing with inaccuracies in criminal records, it also has a very complex way of organizing and accessing criminal records. To begin, Maine starts off by separating a person’s criminal record into two separate things: confidential criminal record and publicly viewable criminal record.
A person’s confidential record can still be accessed and viewed by certain individuals and agencies (i.e. law enforcement, court, etc.), while a person’s public record can basically be accessed by any member of the general public. This is something which many Maine residents have no knowledge about at all.
Maine residents should be aware of this differentiation between confidential information and public information because criminal records can never be expunged. As a general rule, Maine never allows someone’s criminal record to be permanently removed or expunged; in the past, this was allowed for certain individuals under certain conditions, but that’s no longer the case.
Now, everything is either confidential information or public information indefinitely. For this reason, residents should have a good sense of what is captured by each type of record.
Maine law has very specific rules regarding which information falls into the confidential category; these rules are found in Title 16, § 703 (2020).
Here is a summary of the types of information which are presumptively classified as confidential:
If a case is confidential, then all aspects of that case are considered confidential, not just the conviction status; so, the bail records, indictments, plea bargains, appeals, and so forth, are likewise considered confidential and not accessible by the general public. But, they will still be accessible to law enforcement, judges and other individuals who have access to such information.
Maine actually has detailed rules regarding precisely who has the ability to access confidential criminal records.
The rules are found under Title 16, § 705 (2020).
As a general guideline, a criminal justice agency in Maine can access and then share confidential criminal history information to other agencies which also have the same level of authority. More specifically, the following individuals and entities have the authority to access confidential information:
Although a resident’s criminal record cannot be permanently erased, it is still possible to take someone’s criminal record and change it from publicly viewable to confidential. The way do achieve this is by obtaining an official pardon.
Anyone can apply for a pardon, but whoever applies must wait at least 5 years after his or her conviction. After this 5 year waiting period, a person can make a petition for an official pardon.
However, certain offenses, such as DUIs, cannot be pardoned under current law and will therefore always be publicly accessible. Importantly, if someone is granted a pardon, that person can petition the State Bureau of Investigation to have his or her record removed from the FBI’s records, but this can only happen 10 years after the conviction.
The implications of an official pardon are profound. If a person does receive an official pardon, that person can lawfully state that he or she does not have the conviction on his or her record.
Furthermore, when an employer conducts a background search on a prospective employee, the pardoned conviction won’t show up in public records. This can have dramatic consequences.
Maine law also allows youthful offenders to seal their records under certain circumstances. This has been the case since 2015.
If a person commits a Class E crime between the ages of 18 to 21, then that person may be able to seal these convictions and make them confidential information. In order to seal these records, the crime must have been a Class E offense; for reference, most Class E offenses are things such as disorderly conduct and minor theft. The offender also cannot have any other pending criminal cases, or any other convictions since the Class E crime, in order to successfully seal the records.
In addition to this special provision for young adults, Maine also allows the sealing of juvenile records in most cases. However, as with this provision for Class E crimes, this provision for juveniles can only be used under certain conditions.
For instance, the offender must wait 3 years since the time of the case’s disposition; the offender cannot have any additional convictions or pending criminal charges.
If these conditions are met, then the offender can make a formal request to seal (i.e. convert to confidential information) the juvenile records. Again, sealing these records won’t remove them, but doing so will place the offender in a much better position in many ways.
This may not be an area which we dive into with great frequency, but it’s still a very important area nonetheless. If you’re attempting to navigate the Maine criminal law system smoothly, you’re going to need to know this material. The criminal record challenge process is something which residents will need to learn about if they ever need to correct an error or mistake in their criminal record.
Furthermore, it’s very important to understand precisely what kind of information is publicly available to anyone – including potential employers, professional associates and colleagues, etc. – and what can only be accessed by certain people with specific credentials.
As you can see, Maine runs a pretty right ship when it comes to managing and handling criminal record information for its state residents. There is an elaborate system for filtering information into the confidential record versus the public available record.
Maine is also not too forgiving in the sense that records can basically never be removed. The permanence of Maine’s criminal records is all the more reason to deal with criminal allegations in an optimal way.
If you are facing criminal charges in Maine, the attorneys at The Maine Criminal Defense Group are here to help. Call our office to speak with
one of our team members, who will discuss your case with you and set up a consultation with one of our attorneys
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