Bar Admissions Blog

Helping Bar Applicants Prove Character and Fitness for Admission to the Bar

Disclosing Expunged Charges

Q. After I finished my community service, the judge struck my shoplifting conviction, terminated my probation and expunged my record. Must I disclose it on my bar application?

A. It depends.

In theory, records which are "expunged" are to disappear without a trace. In practice, there is often a record of the expungement and the underlying charge.

As a bar applicant, you should never base your disclosure decisions on whether the examiners can discover the underlying facts. The safest approach to a bar examination is to assume that, if a paper record was ever made of charges or other unflattering facts, someone may be able to obtain a copy.

Many states require that you disclose such offenses whether or not the official record was "expunged." Given a variety of expungement rules across the nation, some states only recognize an expungement entered in their own jurisdictions. Most states will permit you to omit charges for which you were tried as a juvenile, whether or not the charges were formally "expunged."

To determine what a particular state may require, read your application carefully. Each application will specify what types of charges must be disclosed and any exemptions.

As with all information requested on your bar application, err on the side of disclosure. Just because a record has been "expunged," do not assume that it is beyond the discovery of enterprising bar examiners and the many background investigations available in our computer age.

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When the Maryland Board of Law Examiners, DC Bar Committee on Admissions, or any character committee questions your character and fitness for bar admission, bar applicants should retain an attorney to assist in disclosing information relevant to character and fitness, to guide them through the bar admissions process, and to represent applicants in character committee hearings and in hearings before the Court of Appeals to determine whether they are fit to practice law. Character and fitness concerns may arise in connection with prior criminal convictions, academic dishonesty and honor code violations, addictions, drunk driving, neglected debts, and a failure to disclose material information on law school applications or on bar applications. If you have a history of misconduct, traffic citations, crimes, arrests and other facts to disclose in response to the character portion of the Maryland Bar Application or the DC Bar's NCBE application, you should strongly consider retaining bar admissions counsel if you want to avoid denial of a law license and get a license to practice law. This is even true for applicants for admission to law schools as these applications ask similar questions about character. A failure to disclose facts material to your admission could result in a denial of bar admission.

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