Consequences of a Misdemeanor Conviction
The effects of a misdemeanor conviction are too numerous to mention. In addition, laws change, and consequences change with them.
Firstly, a conviction in Maine is forever. The state currently does NOT have a method to expunge records that would, after a certain period, allow the slate to be wiped clean and put a person back to a position of having a conviction-free record. Attempts have been made to make this happen, but so far without success.
Consequences of simply being charged
Simply being arrested and charged has consequences. There are websites that store information about cases, and it may be raised in background checks. Being convicted (by plea or after a trial), means a person will have a ‘criminal record.’
That said, the legislature has recently allowed for most Class E crimes to be sealed (this is different from expungement) after a gap since 2015 when a previous law sunsetted (was allowed to lapse). The new law is extremely limited and of questionable value. An application to seal a Class E crime can be made four years after the completion of a sentence. To be eligible, aside from the timing issue of when a motion can be filed, an applicant can’t have any other convictions, or even a Deferred Disposition, or have pending charges, must be aged 18-28 at the time the offense was committed, and there must never be another offense, ever. This sealing process can be done by filing a motion, which in practice will likely be a form you fill out (there is no right to have a court-appointed lawyer), and if all requirements of the statute are met, the motion to seal must be granted. The records are then sealed from SBI reports, but still be accessed by police, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, licensing boards and financial institutions. If any new crime is committed, ever, it can be unsealed. A person charged with a new offense also has an affirmative duty to notify (in short, to tell on themselves). However, it allows a person who qualifies to rightly say ‘no’ as to whether they have been convicted of the sealed Class E offense. There is no a violation for perjury, false wearing, or unsworn falsification by answering in that way once records have been sealed.
Possession of a Firearm
A conviction or defferred disposition for a domestic violence offense, even if it does not lead to a conviction, can lead to limitations in the ability to have or be near a firearm (for example even having one in the same residence). As with immigration law, the consequences can be unforeseen because a ‘conviction’ under federal law is a term of art rather than literal. Merely admitting facts about a crime (a guilty plea and differed disposition) when particular circumstances exist (a specific relationship between the person accused and the victim, and an element of violence (even if attempted)) can result in a ban on possession of a firearm or ammunition.
The Maine Human Rights Commission and the EEOC interpret Title VII of the (federal) Civil Rights Act to prohibit employment policies that exclude people simply on the basis of their conviction. However, for certain jobs and professions, a conviction (or any admission to facts, such as a guilty plea with a deferred disposition not leading to a conviction) could also make licensing difficult, including for misdemeanors (particularly offenses involving dishonesty or false statements, or are directly related to the profession in which you work). For example, there are certain requirements for teachers, accountants, nurses, doctors, care givers, and other professions that are regulated. See 5 M.R.S. §5301–5303 (applicable to Maine). The same may be true regarding certain other jobs not listed here, particularly those which are government- or military- related, or require the individual to be bonded.
A new law (26 M.R.S. §600-A) has stopped Maine employers from asking about previous convictions on a job application form, and from stating on that form or in an advertisement that a person with a conviction / a criminal history that an applicant may not apply or be considered for the position. Questions about convictions can only be done during an interview if the person is deemed to be qualified. There are exceptions to that if federal or state law or regulation creates a disqualification for certain offenses, or a person may not be employed for a conviction, as long as the questions are only limited to particular convictions based on relevant offenses. The same exception to the law applies if a law or regulation requires a background check for a prospective employee.
Having a conviction can come up in a background check for a private lease, and affect entitlement to public housing.
Enhanced Future Sentences
Most states and federal law impose longer sentences on individuals with any prior convictions, including Maine. The amount of increase varies but has been getting longer. While most states apply these sentence-enhancing laws to serious felonies, some states have “three strikes” type laws that can result in sentences of up to life imprisonment – even for some misdemeanor convictions.
Denial of Federal Benefits
Under federal law (21 U.S.C. §862) those convicted of certain drug-related offenses may be ineligible for certain federal benefits. This can include grants, professional licenses or contracts but not Social Security (SS), retirement or Veteran benefits. Benefits such as food stamps or student loans, however, can be lost permanently or for a certain period, the length of which depends on severity or previous conviction. However, this (and other consequences related to benefits) is always subject to change by Congress. Section 8 housing may also be denied for certain offenses.
Future Collateral Consequences
The courts have consistently ruled that even after the “punishment” portion of a criminal conviction is over, certain collateral consequences can apply, even if such consequences WERE NOT in existence at the time of the conviction.