Maine lawmakers are considering bills that would hide from view some criminal records, particularly for low-level marijuana-related offenses committed before the drug was legalized.

But the proposals already have been met with opposition from Gov. Janet Mills and were the subject of some concern at a public hearing before the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee on Friday.

One proposal, L.D. 2236, would downgrade crimes related to unlawful possession or cultivating of marijuana so they are eligible to be sealed by filing a request with the court.

Another bill, L.D. 2269, would automatically seal criminal records for those minor marijuana-related offenses without having to file a request. For both bills, the offenses would have had to be committed prior to the legalization of marijuana in Maine in 2017.

A third proposal would expand the number of adults eligible to have their minor criminal records sealed by a judge. That proposal, L.D. 2218, removes the cap in current law that limits eligibility to adults between the ages of 18 and 27.

All three proposals are sponsored by Rep. Matt Moonen, D-Portland, and come from the Criminal Records Review Committee, which comprises lawmakers, advocates, law enforcement and others. It was established in 2021 to explore ways to help people who have been convicted of crimes and served their sentences to become productive community members without their convictions holding them back.


“These pieces of legislation contribute to a cause I believe to be of great importance – the careful and judicious treatment of criminal records with an eye towards the adverse effects a criminal record can have on the lives of those carrying those records,” House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, said during Friday’s hearing.


Advocates and associations representing Maine prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys told the committee that the bills would encourage rehabilitation, create a more equitable justice system and help people reintegrate into the workforce and housing.

But the Maine Press Association testified against the automatic sealing of records, saying it would be a violation of the First Amendment, and an official with the Maine Judicial Branch said that proposal would create significant work for the court system.

More significantly, Mills is opposed to all three proposals, as well as a fourth bill discussed Friday that would establish a permanent commission to review laws and rules related to criminal history records. Mills’ opposition means the proposals would need broad and bipartisan support to overcome a veto.

In a letter to the chairs of the Judiciary Committee Friday, Tim Feeley, deputy legal counsel for Mills, said the governor believes the pardoning process and policies already in place in state law provide adequate opportunities for mitigating the impact of a criminal record on a person’s life while balancing the need for employers and others to have information they need.


“The governor feels strongly that criminal record information is truthful, accurate information and reflects the culmination of efforts undertaken by three separate and distinct branches of our government and should not be so easily set aside,” Feeley wrote.


Maine is one of at least 31 states that have legalized or decriminalized the recreational use of marijuana, and many of those states have since reexamined the way they treat criminal offenses related to the drug. This week, Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey proposed a sweeping pardon of marijuana possession convictions that would potentially forgive hundreds of thousands of people for their past crimes.

According to the Restoration of Rights Project, a collaboration of groups looking at how states restore the rights of people arrested or convicted of crimes, 24 states have expungement or sealing laws specific to marijuana offenses.

Maine generally has more limited laws on sealing criminal records compared to other states, Matt Morgan, president-elect of the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers told the committee Friday. He encouraged them to expand the ability to seal records to not only support the proposals before them but to include felony possession offenses for drugs like heroin.

“This is an important first step to encourage rehabilitation, discourage recidivism and reintegrate people into the workforce, housing and other parts of our great state,” Morgan said of L.D. 2218. “People are better than their worst mistakes.”


Maeghan Maloney, district attorney for Franklin and Somerset counties and president of the Maine Prosecutors’ Association, testified in support of the bills waiving the age cap and adding past marijuana-related convictions to the list of crimes eligible for sealing.

It’s unclear exactly how many people would be impacted by the changes discussed Friday, but Maloney said the number of criminal and civil violations filed by prosecutors statewide has dropped from 64,643 in 2015 to 42,164 in 2023.

“People that were convicted of certain Class E (lowest level) crimes in 2015 probably would not even be charged today,” Maloney said. “The expansion of (who is eligible) gives those who were convicted in the past and continue to stay out of the criminal justice system a chance to seal their conviction and we support these efforts.”

She said prosecutors also support expanding the law to include Class D marijuana-related crimes so long as the offenses are no longer criminal. “We agree if the conduct would now be legal, pursuant to the enactment of our adult-use cannabis programs, the crimes should be eligible to seal,” Maloney said.


The bills did not draw large numbers of people in opposition Friday, but Judy Meyer, editor of the Sun Journal, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel, testified against the bill proposing an automatic sealing of past offenses on behalf of the Maine Press Association. She said that to do so would be a violation of the First Amendment and reduce the transparency of the judicial system.


“Without access to these documents, the public often would not have a full understanding of the proceedings and therefore would not always be in a position to serve as an effective check on the system,” Meyer said.

But Peter Lehman, who said he was formerly incarcerated and spoke on behalf of the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition, said the poor, racial minorities and people in rural counties already are disproportionally represented in criminal records and Maine jails. Requiring people to petition the court for the sealing of records benefits those with more resources, Lehman said.

“The petition process further disadvantages those already disadvantaged,” he said. “The automatic process makes complete sense to us.”

Julie Finn, who testified on behalf of the Maine Judicial Branch neither for nor against the automatic sealing bill, said the proposal would “create many problems” for the courts.

She said the proposal would require the courts to conduct a check of its system for the charges, which would be difficult because many drug-related offenses are titled in records using the schedule of drug instead of the specific drug, so paper files containing criminal complaints would have to be examined to see if marijuana was involved.

Transferring and sorting the information between the State Bureau of Information, administrative offices and individual courts would require additional work and data programming for thousands of cases. Finn said the fiscal impact of the proposal is hard to estimate, but “it is clear extensive sealing of records cannot be done without significant additional resources.”

Matthew Ruel, director of the State Bureau of Identification within the Maine Department of Public Safety, submitted similar written testimony opposing the bill. “There is nothing ‘automatic’ about this process, it will be very labor intensive for SBI staff,” Ruel said.

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