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Michigan criminal record expungement bills head to Whitmer's desk
Detroit Free Press - 9/24/2020
Legislation that would pave the way for more people to clear their criminal records as well as automate the process for certain offenses is headed to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's desk.
Michigan's expungement reform is expected to affect hundreds of thousands of people. Lawmakers and organizations who backed the bills say the changes will remove a barrier to employment, housing and other opportunities for individuals with criminal histories who've rehabilitated themselves.
The Senate on Wednesday approved the bipartisan legislation, which was introduced in the House of Representatives last September.
Groups that advocate for formerly incarcerated people celebrated the legislation's passage.
"This has been a long time coming for a lot of people, a lot of formerly incarcerated people, who have long been worthy of an opportunity to have a clean record," said Hakim Crampton, statewide organizer with JustLeadershipUSA, a nonprofit that was among a coalition of groups that pushed for the reform. "Too many working-age adults have been locked out for decades from opportunities for employment and critically, opportunities for advancement in employment."
The seven bills have garnered support from both sides of the aisle, but Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, said Wednesday he would not support the legislation because it doesn't allow for expungement of driving under the influence of alcohol. He said "thousands" of residents across the Upper Peninsula, where his district is located, can't get a job because of a drunken driving conviction. Many other traffic offenses, which are not currently eligible for expungement, can be cleared under the bills.
"The whole message for why we’re trying to do this expungement package could not be clearer than on somebody who’s got a DUI 20 years ago when they were 20 years old," McBroom said on the Senate floor. "And to not make provision for that in this package is a terrible injustice, and it's not good for the people that I represent."
Advocates say the current process for sealing a criminal record from public view is costly and complicated, and the restrictions unduly narrow. The law allows for people to apply to have one felony or two misdemeanors set aside five years after their monitoring by the justice system ends.
<strong style="margin-right:3px;">More: Michigan criminal record expungement bills a step closer to Senate vote
<strong style="margin-right:3px;">More: It may become easier to clear criminal history in Michigan
Only 6.5% of people who qualify for expungement in Michigan have their records cleared within five years of becoming eligible, according to a 2019 study out of the University of Michigan Law School. The study found that those who get their records expunged see higher earnings and low recidivism rates.
The bill dubbed as "Clean Slate" would bring on the most sweeping changes. It would create an automated system to wipe clean certain convictions after a period of time, following the lead of Pennsylvania, Utah and California. If the bill is signed into law, Michigan would be the first to automatically clear prior low-level felony offenses.
The bill gives the state a two-year period to implement the automatic expungement process.
It's not clear exactly how many people would benefit from the reform, but it's loosely estimated to be hundreds of thousands. In Wayne County alone, eligibility would increase from 152,000 people who qualify for expungement under the current law to 358,000 people if the legislation is enacted, according a data scientist with the City of Detroit who testified at a committee hearing over the summer.
"This is a milestone in state criminal record-sealing policy that will help hundreds of thousands of people in Michigan, and help drive the national conversation on reform forward," Safe & Just Michigan Executive Director John Cooper said in a news release. The organization advocates for policies to reduce incarceration and was among the coalition that supported the bills.
Dozens of Michiganders have reached out to the Free Press since the bills were introduced last year and shared how the expanded expungement would help them or their loved ones. Many said their criminal convictions from decades ago have held them back from finding meaningful work.
Rep. Graham Filler, R-DeWitt, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said the reform will strengthen Michigan's economy at a time when businesses are having a tough time finding skilled workers.
"With these reforms, thousands of good, hardworking people will become more employable at a critical time when job providers are in dire need of a ready, able and reliable workforce," he said in a news release.
Here's a rundown of each of the bills:
House Bill 4980: Establishes an automated system for record clearing without an application. Misdemeanors would be expunged seven years after sentencing. Felonies would be cleared 10 years after sentencing or the person's release from incarceration, whichever comes last. Up to two felonies and four misdemeanors could be automatically cleared. The following would not be eligible: assaultive crimes, serious misdemeanors, "crimes of dishonesty" (such as forgery and counterfeiting), offenses punishable by 10 or more years in prison, and crimes that include a minor vulnerable adult, injury or serious impairment, death or human trafficking. Courts could make an expunged conviction public again if an individual doesn't make good-faith effort to pay restitution. House Bill 4981: Outlines that convictions not eligible for expungement include felonies that carry a maximum punishment of life in prison, attempt to commit a felony that carries a maximum punishment of life in prison, 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. House Bill 4982: Allows people convicted of one or more misdemeanor marijuana offense to apply for expungement, streamlining the process. There would be a rebuttable presumption that the conviction was based on activity that would not have been a crime if committed after the use of recreational marijuana by adults became legal in December 2018. In challenging the application, a prosecutor would need to prove by a preponderance of evidence that the conduct would constitute a criminal violation after recreational marijuana was legalized. Courts would move to set aside convictions that are not contested after 60 days. House Bill 5120: Establishes that people aggrieved by a court's ruling on an application for marijuana expungement can request a rehearing or appeal. House Bill 4983: Revises the waiting period to apply for expungement, ranging from three to seven years after a person's monitoring by the criminal justice system ends, depending on the type and number of convictions. House Bill 4984: Expands the number of convictions eligible for expungement by application to up to three felony offenses and an unlimited number of misdemeanors. These conditions would apply: no more than two assaultive crimes could be set aside, and no more than one felony conviction for the same offense if the offense is punishable by more than 10 years imprisonment. House Bill 4985: Treats multiple felonies or misdemeanors arising from the same 24-hour period as one conviction for the purposes of expungement. None of the offenses could be assaultive, involve the use or possession of a dangerous weapon, or carry a maximum penalty of 10 or more years in prison.
The Senate on Wednesday also approved two bills related to the expungement of juvenile records, which Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, one of the primary sponsors, referred to as "Clean Slate for kids." The bills, which would seal juvenile court records from public view and create a process to automatically expunge juvenile records for those who stay out of trouble, now head to the House.
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: Michigan criminal record expungement bills head to Whitmer's desk
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