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Bills Expand Expungement Process For Old Convictions

September 17, 2019

Lawmakers want to expand Michigan’s expungement laws in a way they say will give hundreds of thousands of residents with old, low-level criminal convictions a clean record.

“I think everyone recognized that an individual who has committed a crime and has been away from the justice system for five, ten, 15, 20, 25 years should be encouraged and supported when they are trying to get the job, trying get the promotion,” said Rep. Graham Filler (R-DeWitt) chair of the House Judiciary Committee, who spoke at press conferences in Detroit and Kalamazoo unveiling the plan. “Should that person really be crushed for housing or in the job market because of a mistake they made a bunch of years ago?”

Currently, Michigan allows for expungement of one felony or two misdemeanors if a person stays out of court system for a minimum of five years.

The six-bill package would allow for expungement of up to three felonies if none were for an assaultive crime. If the person has an assaultive crime on their record, they can apply to have up to two felonies and four misdemeanors set aside.

The package would set up automatic expungement for certain offenses if they were not an assaultive crime or a serious misdemeanor and all were punishable by less than 10 years imprisonment.

Also in the package is forgiveness for acts committed during “one bad night.” For expungement, crimes would be treated as one felony if they were not assaultive, did not involve a weapon, and none of the crimes carries a maximum penalty greater than 10 years.

The package includes expungement of marijuana offenses, if the act would be permissible now, and some traffic offenses. Driving under the influence would not be eligible. Under the plan, an application to set aside more than one felony could be filed after seven years; an application to set aside a serious misdemeanor or single felony could be filed after five years; and an application to set aside other misdemeanors with no felonies could be filed after three years.

Filler said the bills would be circulated on the House floor for co-sponsor signatures and then be introduced. Filler said he plans to have hearings on the package in the coming weeks.

Other sponsors of the package include Reps. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D-Detroit), Eric Leutheuser (R-Hillsdale), Yousef Rabhi (D-Ann Arbor), Rep. Pauline Wendzel (R-Watervliet), Rep. David LaGrand (D-Grand Rapids) and Luke Meerman (R-Polkton Twp.)

A lot of people don’t know that expungement is an option so don’t seek to have old convictions removed from their record, Filler said. That’s why automatic expungement for low level crimes is important.

“After 10 years, a misdemeanor is just wiped away. You get a letter from the state that says because you have been away from the justice system and not committed any further crime, this crime has been wiped off your record,” Filler said.

He said the package is getting wide support. Lawmakers were joined in their press conferences Sept. 9 by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell.

He said business groups are also supportive.

“Chambers across the state have been leaders on expungement reform because what they see is, we really, really need employees. Michigan is building. Michigan is doing well. We really need to hire folks. And we need hirable, employable folks. And expungement is going to expand that pool tremendously. They really have been drivers on this,” Filler said.

The package did get quick support Sept. 9 from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

“Unfortunately, too many Michiganders continue to be deprived of jobs and suitable housing due to decades-old criminal convictions, many for minor offenses,” Mackinac Center spokesperson David Guenthner said in a statement. “Public safety is enhanced when those who have committed crimes don’t repeat or escalate that behavior. By offering ex-offenders in Michigan the potential to find better jobs and move on with their lives, the expungement bills provide a clear incentive for them to model upstanding behavior.”

Other lawmakers jumped in with support as well.

“When Michiganders return home from incarceration, they face many challenges,” said Rep. Karen Whitsett (D-Detroit). “With legislation like this in effect, we can empower many citizens to be even more productive and positive when returning to their communities and provide hope to those who may still be working to put their lives back together.”

“There is no need to continue punishing someone after they have already repaid their debt to society,” said Rep. Joe Tate (D-Detroit). “Allowing a clear pathway to expungement helps those who seek to better themselves, even if they have made mistakes in the past.”

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