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Gov. Whitmer signs bills expanding criminal record expungement in Michigan

Detroit Free Press - 10/12/2020

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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation Monday that will automatically clear certain criminal convictions from public view while also making more Michiganders eligible for expungement through the application process.

The reform is expected to help hundreds of thousands of people by removing a barrier to employment and other opportunities.

Whitmer in a news release said it is a "historic" day for Michigan.

“These bipartisan bills are a game changer for people who are seeking opportunities for employment, housing, and more, and they will help ensure a clean slate for hundreds of thousands of Michiganders,” said Governor Whitmer. “This is also an opportunity to grow our workforce and expand access to job training and education for so many people. I am proud to sign these bills today alongside Lieutenant Governor Gilchrist and many of the bipartisan leaders who worked on them.”

A coalition of groups that pushed for the reform say Michigan's process to seal a conviction so that it doesn't appear in a background check is costly and complicated, and the restrictions unduly narrow.

Only 6.5% of people who qualify for expungement in Michigan have their records cleared within five years of becoming eligible, according to a study out of the University of Michigan Law School. The study found that people who get their records expunged see higher earnings and low recidivism rates.

The state follows Pennsylvania, Utah and California in adopting an automated system to wipe clean certain convictions from public records after a period of time. Michigan's law applies retroactively and is the first to automatically clear prior low-level felonies.

Under the automatic record-clearing law, misdemeanors will be expunged seven years after sentencing. Felonies will be cleared 10 years after sentencing or the person's release from incarceration, whichever comes last. Up to two felonies and four misdemeanors can be automatically cleared.

Not eligible for automatic expungement are assaultive crimes, serious misdemeanors, "crimes of dishonesty" (such as forgery and counterfeiting), offenses punishable by 10 or more years in prison and crimes that involve a minor, a vulnerable adult, injury or serious impairment, death or human trafficking.

Assaultive crimes defined as offenses such as assault, homicide, manslaughter, assaults against pregnant women, kidnapping, rape, armed robbery, terrorism, and violations involving bombs and explosives

The automatic expungement law allows for a two-year implementation period.

The remaining legislation in the seven-bill package will take effect in 180 days. The bills expand eligibility for expungement by application, a process that's decided by a judge.

Key changes include:

Most traffic offenses will be eligible for expungement. Crimes that aren't eligible include: felonies that carry a maximum punishment of life in prison, attempt to commit a felony for which the maximum punishment is life, felony domestic violence (if the person had a previous domestic violence misdemeanor), child abuse, most criminal sexual conduct offenses, driving while intoxicated, and traffic offenses causing injury or death. Streamlines a process to set aside misdemeanor marijuana offenses that would not have been considered crimes after recreational marijuana was legalized in Michigan. Judges will move to set aside convictions after 60 days of receiving an expungement application unless the prosecutor contests it. The evidentiary burden rests on the prosecutor. People aggrieved by a court's ruling on an application for marijuana expungement can request a rehearing or file an appeal. The waiting period to apply for expungement will range from three to seven years after a person's monitoring by the criminal justice system ends, depending on the type of convictions. Up to three felony offenses and an unlimited number of misdemeanors can be expunged through the application process. These conditions apply: no more than two assaultive crimes can be expunged, and no more than one felony conviction for the same offense if the offense is punishable by more than 10 years imprisonment. Multiple felonies or misdemeanors arising from the same 24-hour period will be treated as one conviction for the purposes of expungement. None of the offenses can be assaultive, involve the use or possession of a dangerous weapon, or carry a maximum penalty of 10 or more years in prison.

<strong style="margin-right:3px;">More: Michigan criminal record expungement bills head to Whitmer's desk

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Crime survivors who support the reform said removing barriers to economic stability and housing will lead to lower recidivism and safer communities. Aswad Thomas, managing director of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, a national network with chapters in Michigan, said the legislation was a "high priority" for the nonprofit's members.

"For many crime survivors, the most important thing ... is what happened it us, we don’t want it to happen again to anyone," said Thomas, a survivor of gun violence. "And passing reforms like the Clean Slate bill, when people are able to get access to a job, people are able to get access to education, people are able to get access to employment, it actually increases public safety."

Angie Jackson covers the challenges of formerly incarcerated citizens as a corps member with Report for America. Her work is supported by The GroundTruth Project and the Hudson-Webber Foundation. Click here to support her work. Become a subscriber.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Gov. Whitmer signs bills expanding criminal record expungement in Michigan


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