Restoration of Rights & Record Relief
Last updated: August 13, 2022
I. Loss & restoration of civil/firearms rights
A. Civil rights
The right to vote is not lost even upon incarceration. The right to serve on a jury is also not lost. See Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. Tit. 14, § 1211 (providing disqualifications for jury service, none of which refer to criminal history).1 The right to hold office is also not lost. A statute providing that a judgment of conviction may include an order disqualifying the defendant from office was repealed in 2019. See Me. Rev Stat. Ann tit. 17-A, 1152(4) (repealed by PL 2019, c. 113, Pt. A, §1).
Firearm privileges are lost upon conviction of a crime punishable by a term of one year or more, or a juvenile adjudication involving violence or a firearm. Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 15, § 393(1), paragraphs (A-1) and (C). The Commissioner of Public Safety has the authority, five years from the date of discharge, to grant a permit to carry a “black powder weapon.” tit. 15, § 393(2).2 A juvenile with a non-violent disqualifying conviction under paragraph A-1 is disqualified only for a period of 3 years following completion of any disposition imposed or until that person reaches 18 years of age. A person subject to the provisions of paragraphs A-1 or C as may apply for a permit to carry a firearm, but may not be issued a permit to carry a concealed handgun.
C. Sex Offender Registration
The lifetime registration and quarterly verification requirements of the 1999 sex offender registration act may not be retroactively imposed upon offenders sentenced under the 1991 and 1995 acts. See State v. Letalien, 985 A.2d 4 (Maine 2009) (holding that retroactive application of requirements violates ex post facto provision of Maine Constitution since the effect of requirements is essentially punitive).
II. Pardon policy & practice
The governor has authority to pardon, except in cases of impeachment, subject to regulation “relative to the manner of applying.” Me. Const. art. V, pt. 1, § 11.3 The only regulation of “the manner of applying” involves notification to officials and public prior to hearing. The governor is assisted by the non-statutory Governor’s Board on Executive Clemency, composed of three members appointed by the governor. Me. Exec. Order 25 FY 11/12 (Nov. 1, 2011), available at http://www.maine.gov/tools/whatsnew/index.php?topic=Gov_Executive_Orders&id=321981&v=article2011. The Board is tasked with making recommendations to the governor on each pardon petition, and by executive order is charged with holding public hearings on such petitions. Id. The final decision on clemency petitions rests solely with the governor.4 Id.
The Board shall consist of three persons appointed by the Governor to serve at his pleasure. The Chair of the Board shall be designated by the Governor. All members of the Board will be Maine citizens who have demonstrated humanitarian concern as well as thorough knowledge of the criminal justice system, and who have demonstrated such qualities in their private and professional lives that would assist them in evaluating the rehabilitation of persons convicted under our criminal justice laws. The Board is supported administratively by the Department of Corrections.
The Department of Corrections (DOC) administers the governor’s pardon power through its Division of Adult Community Services. Frequently asked questions about eligibility, the application process, and the effect of pardons are available at http://www.maine.gov/corrections/adult/pardon/. DOC’s Division of Probation and Parole is authorized, “when requested by the Governor,” to investigate pardon cases, and to make recommendations to the Governor. Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 34-A, § 5210(4). All information gathered by the Division is confidential. Id. In practice, the Governor’s Board on Executive Clemency holds pardon hearings and makes the recommendations to the governor while the Division assists with investigations. See Governor’s Board of on Executive Clemency, General Information Regarding Executive Clemency (2008), available at http://www.maine.gov/corrections/adult/pardon/pardon%20application%20final.pdf; Exec. Order 25 FY 11/12, supra.
Petitions will not be considered until five years after the completion of the petitioner’s sentence. Adult Community Corrections, Maine Department of Corrections, http://www.maine.gov/corrections/adult/pardon. Petitions to pardon DUI offenses will not be considered, nor will the Board petitions seeking a pardon solely to regain gun rights, to be removed from the state’s sex offender registry,5 or to enter Canada. Further, petitions “seeking a pardon for one criminal conviction when the Petitioner has one or more additional serious criminal convictions that are not included in the Petitioner’s application for a pardon will not be heard.” Id.
The pardon application form requires a description of “exceptional” circumstances warranting a pardon. Petition for Executive Clemency (2008), available at http://www.maine.gov/corrections/adult/pardon/pardon%20application%20final.pdf.
A pardon lifts automatic legal barriers (including firearms dispossession and sex offender registration), and evidences rehabilitation. In addition, certain information concerning the pardoned conviction is considered “non-conviction” data that is available under the conditions or circumstances set forth in Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 16, §§ 611-622. See Part III. Ten years after the final discharge of sentence, a pardoned person may apply to the State Bureau of Identification to have all references to the pardoned crime deleted from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s identification record. 15, § 2167 (2011). See also tit. 34-A, § 1125-A(6)(c) (sex offender registration no longer required after pardon).
In addition, in 2018 the Criminal History Record Information Act was amended to include as confidential information “disclosing that a person has petitioned for and been granted a full and free pardon.” Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 16, § 703(2)(L), HB 765. Accordingly, it is now hard to know who has applied for and who has been granted a pardon unless they have been granted a public hearing, which is not mandated by law.
Pardon application forms and instructions are available at http://www.maine.gov/corrections/adult/pardon. Petitions are sent to the Department of Corrections, which initiates a preliminary background check on the petitioner by the State Bureau of Identification. General Information Regarding Executive Clemency, The Governor’s Board on Executive Clemency then reviews the petitions and decides whether to grant a hearing before the Board. Id. If a hearing is granted, the Parole Board conducts a more thorough background investigation which includes an interview with the petitioner, and may also include interviews with third parties including the petitioner’s family, friends, and co-workers.
The only statutory regulation of the pardon process is that, prior to the hearing, written notice of the petition for pardon must be given “to the Attorney General and the district attorney for the county where the case was tried at least 4 weeks before the time of the hearing.” Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 15, § 2161 (2011). Petitioners must post a notice of the hearing in a newspaper in the county where the conviction occurred at least four weeks before the hearing. Id. See also General Information Regarding Executive Clemency, supra. Note, however, that a hearing is not mandated by law and need not be held in the governor chooses not to avail himself of this process.
If a hearing is held, it is public, and allows the Board to ask the petitioner “about matters involving the Petitioner’s application for clemency, including the reason why clemency is being sought and the circumstances surrounding the crime(s) for which a pardon or commutation is being requested.” See General Information Regarding Executive Clemency, supra. After the hearing, the Board meets in Executive Session to discuss the petitioner’s case, and then transmits its recommendation to the governor. The Board meets at least three times each year. Id. The entire process, from the time the application is received until a final decision is issued, usually takes a minimum of six months, and “could take as much as a year or longer.” Id. If the petition is denied, the petitioner must wait one year to reapply. Id.
G. Frequency of Grants
Governor Paul Lepage reportedly granted pardons to only 30 individuals between taking office in 2011 and the final full year of his term (2018). The website of the Maine Board on Executive Clemency contains no information on the number of pardon applications granted and denied, though newspaper reports indicate that hundreds have applied for relief.6 Because information about pardon filings and grants has since 2017 been designated as confidential, that it is now hard to know who has applied for and who has been granted a pardon unless they have been granted a public hearing and required to post a notice in the newspaper (see discussion above). Governor Janet Mills, who took office in early 2019, has to date issued no pardons.
In 2012, the Board received nearly 160 pardon petitions, and granted hearings on just over a quarter of those petitions. Of the petitions heard, the Board recommended 18 to the Governor, 11 of which were granted. During his eight years in office (2002-2011), Governor Baldacci granted 131 pardons, 51 in his final year in office. About 50 people are granted hearings each year, and of them about 25% are granted pardon. Governor Baldacci regarded pardons as exceptional, primarily useful for “working people,” for whom pardons make a significant difference in their life (employment, particularly nurses and teachers; immigration cases). Two of his final pardons went to individuals seeking pardon to avoid deportation.7 Angus King pardoned about the same number during the preceding eight years, with some individuals receiving multiple pardons, according to information supplied by the Secretary of State’s Office. Gov. Joseph Brennan approved about 300 requests for pardons and commutations, according to Bangor Daily News articles from the 1994 campaign.
Questions regarding pardons may be directed to:
Department of Corrections
Division of Adult Community Services
111 State House Station
Augusta, Maine 04333
III. Expungement, sealing & other record relief
A. Sealing of minor youthful convictions
In 2022, Maine authorized sealing for most Class E crimes committed between the ages of 18 and 28. Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 15, § 2261 et seq., enacted by LD1310. A 2015 provision that authorized sealing for class E crimes (including “current or former” crimes) committed between the ages of 18 and 21 was repealed by operation of law on October 1, 2019. See Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 15, § 2259 (2015)(sunset provision repealing chapter 310 of Title 15, §§ 2251 through 2259).8. The new Chapter 310A provides that at least four years must have passed since the terms of the sentence were satisfied, the person must not have been convicted of any other crime in the state, and had no charges dismissed pursuant to a deferred disposition since the sentence was satisfied. Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 15, § 2262. The court in which the conviction was obtained must hold a hearing, § 2264(5), and if the person commits another crime the record must be unsealed. § 2264(7). Agencies that still have access to a sealed record include, in addition to law enforcement and victims, motor vehicle departments, licensing agencies, financial services agencies and financial institution. § 2265.
B. Deferred adjudication
“A person who has pled guilty to a Class C, Class D or Class E crime and who consents to a deferred disposition in writing is eligible for a deferred disposition.” Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 17-A, § 1348. “Following the acceptance of a plea of guilty for a crime for which a person is eligible for a deferred disposition under section 1348, the court may order sentencing deferred to a date certain or determinable and impose requirements upon the person, to be in effect during the period of deferment, considered by the court to be reasonable and appropriate to assist the person to lead a law-abiding life.” § 1348-A. Upon successful completion of the period of deferment, the prosecutor may file a motion permitting the defendant to withdraw the plea, and dismiss the charges. § 1348-B. Other dispositional options may also be available, such as knocking down a felony to a misdemeanor.
C. Confidentiality of certain non-conviction records
Substantial changes were made to Maine’s Criminal History Record Information Act in June 2013. See 2013 Me. Legis. Serv. Ch. 267 (H.P. 1070) (L.D. 1493) (effective Oct. 9, 2013). Various non-conviction records held by criminal justice agencies are made confidential, but this does not apply to court records. See Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 16, §§ 703, 705, 708(3), 709(6); see also tit. 16, §§ 611, 613 (2012) (prior version); Megan Gray, Maine courts have improperly sealed public records for years, after agreeing to end practice, Portland Press Herald (Nov. 18, 2020), https://www.pressherald.com/2020/11/18/maine-courts-sealed-records-for-years-after-agreeing-to-end-practice/. In addition, disclosure of confidential information held by criminal justice agencies may be made to “[a]ny person who makes a specific inquiry . . . as to whether a named individual was summonsed, arrested or detained or had formal criminal charges initiated on a specific date,” as well as other specific grounds for disclosure. § 705(1)(E).
D. Confidentiality of pardoned convictions
Criminal justice agency records concerning a pardoned conviction is also considered confidential and is available only under the same conditions in the previous section. Ten years after the final discharge of sentence, a pardoned person may apply to the State Bureau of Identification to have all references to the pardoned crime deleted from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s identification record. tit. 15, § 2167.
E. Sealing of juvenile records
In 2021, Maine completely revised its law on confidentiality of juvenile records, both those in the possession of law enforcement and court records. Effective January 1, 2022, the law limiting dissemination of information about juvenile adjudications by criminal justice agencies is spelled out in detail in Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 15, §§ 3010, 3308-A, enacted by LD1676, Pub. Acts 365. Confidentiality of court records is governed by tit. 15, § 3308-C, also enacted by LD1676. Under prior law enacted in 2019 and repealed effective January 1, 2022, the subject of juvenile records was authorized to petition the court to seal the record if at least three years had passed since the end of the juvenile’s disposition, there had been no subsequent adjudications or convictions since the disposition, and there were no pending charges. The court might rule against sealing if it determined that the public’s right to information substantially outweighs the juvenile’s privacy interest. Once sealed, a juvenile could deny the existence of the record. tit. 15, § 3308(8)(D).Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 15, §§ 3308(8)(A) through (D), repealed by LD1676.
IV. Criminal record in employment & licensing
A. Ban-the-box in employment
In 2021 Maine enacted a ban-the-box law applicable to public and private employment (except for state employees covered by the 2019 ban-the-box law described below), prohibiting inquiry into a person’s criminal record until the person has been selected for an interview or been deemed otherwise qualified. Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 26, §600. Certain positions are excepted, including those for which the law creates a presumption of disqualification for certain offenses, or otherwise bars hiring people with certain convictions.
In 2019 Maine enacted a law prohibiting questions about an individual’s criminal history on applications for employment for a position in State Government, “except when, due to the nature and requirements of the position, a person who has a criminal history may be disqualified from eligibility for the position.” Provision covers positions in the legislative, executive or judicial branch of State Government or a position with a quasi-independent state entity or public instrumentality of the State, but not “a school administrative unit, municipality, county or other political subdivision of the State.” Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 5, §792.
B. Occupational licensing
Maine limits consideration of conviction in determining eligibility for the granting of any occupational license, registration or permit issued by the State, placing stricter limits on less serious offenses and generally barring consideration of dated convictions. Under Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 5, § 5301(1), licensing agencies may take into consideration criminal history record information from Maine or elsewhere relating to certain convictions that have not been set aside or for which a full and free pardon has not been granted, but “the existence of such information shall not operate as an automatic bar to being licensed, registered or permitted to practice any profession, trade or occupation.”
Section 5301(2) further limits consideration of certain minor convictions: convictions for which incarceration for less than a year is authorized may be considered only if the offense “directly relates” to the license, or if the offense involves dishonesty or false statement. Convictions of a sexual nature may be considered in connection with certain types of health care licenses. However, under § 5302 convictions specified in § 5301(2) may be taken into account if the licensing agency determines that the individual “has not been sufficiently rehabilitated to warrant the public trust.” In such event, the licensing agency “shall explicitly state in writing the reasons for a decision which prohibits the applicant, licensee, registrant or permit holder from practicing the profession, trade or occupation if that decision is based in whole or in part on conviction of any crime described in section 5301, subsection 2.”
Section 5303 provides that licensing authorities may consider only recent convictions (within the last three or ten years, depending on the type of license sought, with a longer period for health care and law enforcement licenses).9 “Beyond the [3-year][10-year] period, ex-offender applicants or licensees with no additional convictions are to be considered in the same manner as applicants or licensees possessing no prior criminal record for the purposes of licensing decisions.” § 5303(1), (2)(A). There is no time limitation for consideration of an applicant’s or licensee’s conduct that gave rise to the criminal conviction if that conduct is otherwise a ground for disciplinary action. §5303(1)(, (2)(B).
No similar limitations on public or private employment.
- This does not necessarily permit people with a conviction record to serve on Maine juries. See Brian C. Kalt, The Exclusion of Felons from Jury Service, 53 Am. U.L. Rev. 65, 152 n. 395 (2003):
“Although [incarcerated criminals] could be bound over day to day until they are free from incarceration, it is logical to excuse them from service for this term. Again, [it is] up to the individual judge.” E-mail from Connie Fletcher, Judicial Secretary, Cumberland County (Maine) Superior Court, to Jeff Jocks, researcher at Michigan State University-DCL College of Law (June 28, 2002) (on file with the American University Law Review).”
- Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 15, § 393(2):
“APPLICATION AFTER 5 YEARS. A person subject to the provisions of subsection 1, paragraph A-1 or C as a result of a conviction or adjudication may, after the expiration of 5 years from the date that the person is finally discharged from the sentences imposed as a result of the conviction or adjudication, apply to the commissioner for a permit to carry a firearm subject to subsection 4. That person may not be issued a permit to carry a concealed firearm pursuant to Title 25, chapter 252. A permit issued pursuant to this subsection is valid for 4 years from the date of issue unless sooner revoked for cause by the commissioner. For purposes of this subsection, “firearm” does not include a firearm defined under 18 United States Code, Section 921(3) [sic].”
- The Maine Supreme Court has held statutes purporting to reduce prison terms through good time or judicial resentencing to be an unconstitutional usurpation of governor’s clemency authority. See Chestnut v. State, 524 A.2d 1216, 1219-20 (Me. 1987); State v. Hunter, 447 A.2d 797, 801-803 (Me. 1982).
- In 1977, Amendment 129 to the Maine constitution eliminated the constitutional requirement that the governor obtain the advice of the quasi-legislative Executive Council before issuing a pardon. Me. Con. Res. 1975, c.4 See also In re Pardoning Power of Governor & Council, 27 A. 463 (Me. 1892) (governor not required to seek concurrence of the justices of the supreme court, noting separation of powers concerns). In 1995, freed of these venerable limits on his pardon power, Governor Angus King created the Board on Executive Clemency. See E.O, 8-94/95, January 27, 1995 (on file with author).
- Cf. Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 34-A, § 1125-A(6)(c) (2011) (registration no longer required after pardon).
- According to a 2013 article in the Bangor Daily News, “the [Department of Corrections] has not yet received any signed paperwork from the governor’s office. So, while the pardons are signed, an employment or criminal background check would not yet indicate that any [of the pardons] exist.” Judy Meyer, Hundreds seek pardons of criminal conviction in Maine each year, but few are granted, Bangor Daily News, June 2, 2013, available at http://bangordailynews.com/2013/06/02/news/state/hundreds-seek-pardons-of-criminal-convictions-in-maine-each-year-but-few-are-granted.
- See Kevin Miller, As clock runs out on his term, Baldacci grants final pardons, Bangor Daily News, Jan. 5, 2011, available at http://new.bangordailynews.com/2011/01/05/politics/as-clock-runs-out-on-his-term-baldacci-grants-final-pardons/
- Chapter 310 provided that courts must seal convictions for Class E crimes (less serious misdemeanors) that were committed while a person was between the ages of 18 and 21 but only if the person has not been convicted of any other offenses and has no charges pending. Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 15, §§ 2251, 2255. Sexual assault offenses are ineligible. § 2251. A 4-year waiting period applied from the time of completion of sentence. § 2252. Sealing was mandatory upon a finding of eligibility criteria. § 2254(5). If a person was convicted of an offense subsequent to sealing, then the sealed records must be unsealed. § 2254(7). Sealed records may not be disseminated to anyone except other than criminal justice agencies. § 2255. A person whose record is sealed “may respond to inquiries from other than criminal justice agencies by not disclosing its existence without being subject to any sanctions.” § 2256. The sunset provision referred to in text was set to repeal this sealing authority on Oct. 1, 2019. See § 2259. In 2019, the legislature by resolution established the Criminal Records Review Committee to develop a policy on access to criminal records, notably records of decriminalized conduct (or that might be decriminalized) and crimes committed by victims of human trafficking. In its preamble, the resolution noted that “the definition of appropriate access to criminal records is evolving as society changes its thinking with regard to sentencing, punishment, rehabilitation, and fresh starts.” and that “the separation of powers concept enshrined in the Constitution of Maine limits the options available for reducing access to criminal records.” See H.P. 569 – L.D. 764.
- E.g., § 5303(1): “THREE-YEAR LIMITS. Except as set forth in this subsection and subsection 2, the procedures outlined in sections 5301 and 5302 for the consideration of prior criminal conviction as an element of fitness to practice a licensed profession, trade or occupation shall apply within 3 years of the applicant’s or licensee’s final discharge, if any, from the correctional system. Beyond the 3-year period, ex-offender applicants or licensees with no additional convictions are to be considered in the same manner as applicants or licensees possessing no prior criminal record for the purposes of licensing decisions. There is no time limitation for consideration of an applicant’s or licensee’s conduct which gave rise to the criminal conviction if that conduct is otherwise a ground for disciplinary action against a licensee.”