Pardons or Expulsions of Maine State Criminal Convictions
I have assisted hundreds (and perhaps thousands) of accused criminals as lawyer of the day when they make their first appearances in court. Many people decline to receive any advice from the lawyer of the day and instead take plea agreements in which they are convicted of misdemeanor-level offenses with a recommended sentence – usually a fine, sometimes a short jail term for a lesser offense – without any trial or even the involvement of a defense attorney.
This post is not about the wisdom (or lack thereof) that guides such a decision. Rather, because a good number of defendants ask me about eventual “expungements” (or a similar term) of convictions before they accept plea offers from the prosecution, I want to point out the difficulty of obtaining such a result after a Maine state court conviction.
Other jurisdictions offer some convicted criminals a chance to get their convictions removed from the records of criminal convictions or treated as though they resulted in acquittals. These are generally for relatively minor crimes and require the passage of a significant number of years without another conviction. New Hampshire, for example, offers a mechanism called annulment.
Maine, though, has only executive clemency, sometimes referred to as the governor’s pardon power, and certain provisions for juvenile records. So, if someone who has been convicted in a Maine state court of any adult crime wants a clean slate, he or she must petition the governor for clemency.
This is no small task, as maybe a dozen pardons are granted per year in a state with thousands of criminal convictions per year.
I’m no mathematician, but I’m confident that means fewer than 1% of Maine convictions are forgiven. (These numbers don’t account for Gov. LePage’s controversial assertion of the clemency power to save a dangerous dog from being put to death.)
In my opinion, this state needs an additional avenue for relief so that a mistake made as a young adult doesn’t always haunt someone for life. But for now I must advise anyone charged with a crime in Maine to assume that a conviction will remain on record forever.