Last year, the Appellate Court of Maryland decided an expungement case that has had a substantial impact on those seeking expungement. The Court held that a violation of probation can permanently bar a person from expungement eligibility. MVLS Workforce Development Manager, Chris Sweeney, was interviewed about the subject for The Baltimore Banner, along with our colleagues at Maryland Legal Aid and University of Baltimore. We are thankful to The Baltimore Banner for shedding light on this decision, which many expungement advocates see as a devastating blow to the progress made on record clearing opportunities.
MVLS’ Workforce Development Manager, Chris Sweeney recently published an op-ed in the AFRO addressing cannabis expungement and systemic injustice.
Check out this WBAL interview with MVLS’ Workforce Development Manager Chris Sweeney, who discusses what changes will be taking effect on July 1st regarding new expungement options for cannabis charges.
The passage of the cannabis legalization referendum last November triggered not only new laws for possession and sale of cannabis, but also some exciting changes to criminal record expungement. When adult use and possession of cannabis becomes legal on July 1st, 2023, new expungement laws will go into effect as well.
A criminal case where a person was convicted solely of cannabis possession will become eligible for expungement if the amount of cannabis was less than 1.5 ounces. Expunging a conviction for possession of any amount of cannabis will be possible if the person successfully completes their sentence.
A conviction for possession with intent to distribute cannabis will be eligible after 3 years from the completion of sentence.
Perhaps most interesting will be the ability to expunge cannabis-related charges even if the same case contains otherwise ineligible convictions. This subverts the longstanding “unit rule” that prevents many cases from being expunged.
Finally, the courts have been directed to automatically expunge cannabis possession charges by July 1st, 2024. How exactly this will work remains unclear, and we likely won’t know more details until next year. However, those with cannabis charges on their record do not need to wait for automatic expungement. A person is able to file for expungement as soon as their case becomes eligible.
See our cannabis expungement fact sheet for more details, and contact MVLS to see if you are eligible for help with criminal record expungement.
MVLS Workforce Development Attorney, George Townsend was featured on WBFF-TV (Fox, Baltimore) to talk about cannabis expungements.
There are many reasons why someone may need to request a new birth certificate. You may have lost yours, or maybe you need a new certificate to reflect a name change. Perhaps you discovered a misspelling or other error on your birth certificate. Dealing with state agencies can be intimidating, but Maryland has a procedure to address these concerns. MVLS has just published a birth certificate factsheet to help you understand these processes.
If you’ve lost your birth certificate and want a new copy, you can contact the Vital Statistics Administration at 410-764-3038 or by visiting https://health.maryland.gov/vsa/Pages/Home.aspx On this site, you can book an in-person appointment or place an online order. You also can obtain the proper form to mail a request. Only certain people may request a birth certificate: the person named on the birth certificate, a parent named on the certificate, the guardian or surviving spouse of the individual named on the certificate, the personal representative of the individual named on the certificate, or the personal representative of that individual’s court-appointed guardian.
To obtain a new birth certificate, you must submit certain required documents. A valid, government-issued photo ID such as a driver’s license, passport or state photo ID showing your current address will be sufficient. If you do not have a valid photo ID, you must submit two of the following documents: a current utility bill, car registration, rental agreement, pay stub, tax return, bank statement or letter from a government agency requesting your vital records.
If you wish to correct or update your birth certificate, there are different processes depending on your reason for doing so. Those seeking to correct mistakes such as misspellings or omissions can submit a form by mail. This form is an affidavit where you will attest to the truth of the information you provide, and you must have the document notarized. Persons seven years of age or older who seek to correct their birth certificate must provide two documents from the long list found on the form. Documents can include a voter registration card, doctor’s office records, marriage certificates and more.
Those seeking to change the sex designation on their birth certificate have their own process to go through. A form can be mailed to the Vital Statistics Administration along with the required documents. The person making this request also must present proof that one of the following is true: a health care practitioner certifies that the applicant has undergone gender-affirming treatment, a health care practitioner certifies that the applicant is intersex, or a court has issued an order for a gender change. You will need to provide a certified copy of the court order.
A $10 fee – payable by check or money order to the State of Maryland – must be paid for every copy of a birth certificate you request.
Finally, if your birth certificate contains a more unusual error not mentioned here, such as an incorrect parent’s name, you may need to obtain a court order by filing a lawsuit known as a Complaint for Writ of Mandamus. This is a legal action that must be filed in the Circuit Court for the city or county where you live. In the filing, you must detail your reasons for wanting to change your birth certificate and ask the court for an order granting your request.
Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service can help you obtain a court order granting a name change, gender change or other birth certificate correction. Visit our online intake or call 443-547-6537 between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
Grant Awarded as State’s Cannabis Legalization Bill Goes Into Effect July 1, 2023
News of MVLS’ grant award, which coincides with the authorization of adult use and possession of cannabis in Maryland, was highlighted in The Daily Record (here), The Baltimore Business Journal (here), The Times-Tribune (here), Investors Observer (here), and covered in an article by Mike Curley in Law360 (here). You can read the full press release, below.
BALTIMORE – Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS), a statewide provider of free legal services to low-income Marylanders, will receive a $542,775 grant from Maryland Legal Services Corporation (MLSC) to implement a statewide outreach, education and referral network to help expunge the criminal records of Marylanders charged with cannabis-related violations. A constitutional amendment that authorizes the adult use and possession of cannabis in Maryland goes into effect July 1, 2023.
“Given the racial disparities in arrests and sentencing for cannabis violations, the expanded expungement laws will right a wrong that has held back thousands of people.”Chris Sweeney, Workforce Development Manager
MVLS’ funding is part of a $2.5 million grant awarded to eight legal services providers in the state. The Maryland General Assembly appropriated the one-time funding to MLSC to distribute to its grantees to educate individuals on changes to cannabis and expungement laws and support expungement efforts between April 2023 and June 2024.
“We welcome this change in the law that will further reduce employment barriers for many Marylanders and appreciate the General Assembly’s recognition that education, outreach and legal assistance play critical roles in stabilizing communities,” said MVLS Executive Director Susan Francis. “MVLS looks forward to working with the seven other grantees to quickly launch a unified and comprehensive initiative to remove the charges from individuals’ records and give them a second chance.”
MVLS will work with Allegany Law Foundation; Community Legal Services of Prince George’s County; FreeState Justice; Harford County Bar Foundation; Homeless Persons Representation Project; Maryland Legal Aid; and MidShore Pro Bono to increase awareness and accessibility of expungement services starting this month. This collaboration will include public awareness and direct mailing campaigns, free legal clinics and increased staffing.
MVLS Attorney and Workforce Development Manager Chris Sweeney said, “Expungement is a simple legal process that can have a substantial impact on a person’s life, opening doors to stable employment and housing. Given the racial disparities in arrests and sentencing for cannabis violations, the expanded expungement laws will right a wrong that has held back thousands of people.”
Marylanders with cannabis-related charges can visit mvlslaw.org/free-legal-help to check their eligibility and apply for services.
As a part of the project, MVLS will hire four community navigators to cover Western Maryland, Southern Maryland, Baltimore City and the prison population – and connect clients to MVLS attorneys and staff, or the appropriate legal services organization involved with the project. MVLS also will hire a paralegal to coordinate the navigators’ efforts and perform legal research and document requests.
Media Contact: Sandy Arnette, 410-274-5975, firstname.lastname@example.org
Chris Sweeney, Workforce Development Manager, MVLS, was chosen as a United Way Baltimore Region Workforce Leadership Academy fellow. Chris shares some of his thoughts on being selected and what lessons he hopes to incorporate in the workforce development project at MVLS.
- Why did you apply to be part of the academy class?
I have managed the Workforce Development Project here at MVLS since 2016. In that time, I’ve grown quite passionate about issues surrounding barriers to employment for formerly incarcerated people. But I’m performing one small piece of workforce development – legal services. I thought that the academy would be an opportunity to connect more closely with those involved in direct job training and other services, which will help me make a greater impact for my clients.
- What’s one thing you hope to get out of the experience?
I hope to learn more about the landscape of workforce development in Baltimore – all of the services being offered, the issues facing trainees, and how everyone involved in this effort can work together more effectively.
- How does your work at MVLS connect with what the leadership academy is doing?
The project I manage is a partnership with a number of job training sites, where we provide legal consultations, seminars, and full representation to trainees seeking assistance from a lawyer. Our aim is to remove barriers to employment, which often come in the form of criminal records, debt, unstable housing, tax issues, and more problems that can be solved through legal representation.
- Tell us a favorite story you have of working with a workforce development trainee.
One of my favorite stories involves a client whom I helped with expungement and shielding. We expunged a few cases from his record, but he was more concerned with peace order cases against him that were publicly visible. They all stemmed from a turbulent time in his family life that he had long moved on from. Due to the timing of these cases and the rules surrounding shielding, the process to remove these cases took almost three years. One of the cases was not even technically eligible for shielding under the statutory language, but certain unusual facts allowed us to make an argument for good cause and have the shielding granted. During this time, my client graduated from community college and enrolled in a science program at a university.
The Baltimore Banner published a cover story written by Brenda Wintrode featuring the new cannabis law and what it will mean for expungements. MVLS’ Workforce Development Manager, Chris Sweeney is quoted below.