Can I Seal a Maryland Court Record?
Maryland law favors public access to the records of its courts. In fact, I would suggest that is the default setting, and that if public access is to be denied, a significant interest in secrecy must be shown. Having said that, under Maryland law, some records, for fairly obvious reasons, are automatically kept from public scrutiny. Examples would be cases involving minors:
- guardianship of or a minor
- juvenile criminal records
Despite this automatic sealing in enumerated cases [ there are others] the presumption of openness and access applies generally to all civil and criminal cases in Maryland.
However, a Maryland court has the authority to deny inspection [ i.e. seal] a case record that would be generally subject to inspection, if a fairly rigorous standard is met.
The individual seeking to seal the record must be a party to the case, or the subject of the case. The person seeking to seal the case record must demonstrate a “compelling reason” that inspection should be denied to the public, and additionally “that no substantial harm will come from such an order.” Proof must be made by clear and convincing evidence, which is an intermediate standard, somewhere between the typical preponderance of the evidence standard seen in civil case, and the more burdensome beyond a reasonable doubt standard one would encounter in a criminal case, As Attorney Eric T. Kirk will tell you.
The process is a tiered one, where a the court may examine the request, which must be filed under oath, and may grant a limited temporary order “if it clearly appears from specific facts shown by affidavit or other statement under oath that
- there is a substantial basis for believing that the case record is properly subject to an order precluding or limiting inspection pursuant to this Rule, and
- immediate, substantial, and irreparable harm will result to the person seeking the relief or on whose behalf the relief is sought if temporary relief is not granted before a full adversary hearing can be held on the propriety of a final order precluding or limiting inspection.”
Source: Maryland Rule 16-934.
Notice must be given to all principals in the case. After a full hearing , if the legal standard is met, the court may grant a narrowly tailored permanent order, supported by specific factual findings, sealing all or part of the record.