- Traffic, theft, drug convictions make up the bulk of misdemeanors and felonies dropped
- Advocates say more awareness, resources for individuals with newly-expunged records could improve process
- Law enforcement taking a ‘wait-and-see’ approach to determine full impact of expungement changes
Traffic misdemeanors, theft charges and drug possession or use made up the vast majority of the nearly 1.2 million Michigan criminal convictions dropped from residents’ records in the first two weeks of automatic expungement, state police records show.
The data, obtained by Bridge Michigan from the Michigan State Police through the state’s Freedom of Information Act, offers a nuanced look into the state’s rollout of automatic expungement, which began April 11 and is designed to identify and remove convictions eligible for expungement without a court order.
The dropped convictions by and large reflect the most commonly-committed crimes newly eligible for expungement. Of the 1,166,852 misdemeanor and 112,389 felony counts wiped from the record in the program’s first two weeks, more than 420,000 misdemeanors and 6,707 felonies were traffic-related — convictions that were previously ineligible to be set aside prior to a 2020 overhaul of the state’s expungement laws.
More than half the traffic-related misdemeanors automatically expunged — about 272,000 — were first or subsequent convictions for driving with a suspended or revoked license.
Another 270,000 misdemeanors and 46,000 felony convictions dropped from the records were theft-related, including shoplifting, larceny, breaking and entering into a vehicle and receiving or concealing stolen property.
About 137,000 misdemeanor drug charges were expunged, the bulk of which were related to use and possession of marijuana, a substance made legal by Michigan voters in 2018. Roughly 22,000 drug-related felony counts were dropped, including 10,000 counts of cocaine, heroin or narcotics possession and just over 6,700 marijuana-related felony charges.
Other convictions automatically dropped from Michiganders’ criminal records include:
- Nearly 20,000 weapons felony convictions, including 13,543 counts for carrying concealed weapons without a license, and another 26,607 weapons misdemeanors were dropped.
- About 75,000 alcohol-related misdemeanors, including 25,108 counts of drunk disorderly conduct and 21,685 counts of minor in possession.
- 45,000 counts of misdemeanor disorderly conduct, and another 45,000 misdemeanor counts of disturbing the peace
- More than 33,000 malicious destruction of property convictions, including 2,435 felonies
Attorney General Dana Nessel estimated in April that the first wave of automatic expungements applied to at least a million people, 400,000 of whom became conviction-free under the new policy.
Three months in, many observers say it’s too soon to know the full impact of the automatic process — in part because some people with newly cleared records may not realize it yet.
“I’m excited about it, because of the scraping of really old, minor convictions,” said Rep. Graham Filler, R-Duplain Township, who led efforts to change Michigan’s expungement process in 2020.
“But I believe it’s too early to see how it impacts individuals, just because many individuals don’t know about the automatic concept.”
Automatic process still in its infancy
Michigan is one of only four states with an up-and-running automatic expungement system, joining Utah, California and Pennsylvania.
The program scans the state’s list of criminal records daily for offenses that meet eligibility requirements for setting aside the conviction, including type of offense, the amount of time that has passed since conviction and whether the person has reached the statutory maximum for automatic expungements.
Prior to 2020, Michigan residents with one felony conviction or two or fewer misdemeanors for certain crimes were eligible to apply with courts to clear their record so long as they hadn’t committed other offenses for at least five years.
But those rules didn’t apply to many nonviolent crimes, including traffic offenses, and criminal justice reform advocates argued the costs and complexity of getting records expunged blocked many eligible residents from doing so. Researchers at the University of Michigan found that only 6.5 percent of Michigan residents successfully expunged a conviction from their record within five years of becoming eligible.
The “Clean Slate” bipartisan bill package signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in October 2020 overhauled the state’s expungement process, making the option available to people with three felonies or less and any number of misdemeanors as well as expediting the process for people with marijuana-related convictions.
That legislation also opened the door for automatic expungements of up to two felonies after 10 years and up to four misdemeanors after seven years for people who haven’t committed any crimes since — with several exceptions, including violent crimes, crimes that involve minors or vulnerable adults, sex crimes and other serious offenses.
Some crimes, including first-time drunk driving offenses, are not eligible for automatic expungement, but can be expunged by petitioning a judge if the incident didn’t involve death or serious injury.
Convictions not otherwise exempted are fair game for automatic expungement, including more obscure crimes — three counts of failing to pay the Mackinac Bridge toll, seven counts related to fortune telling and five dueling-related counts were among the misdemeanor convictions set aside automatically in the first weeks of the program. Bans on fortune telling and dueling were repealed in 1993 and 2015, respectively.
Rep. Phil Skaggs, D-Grand Rapids, worked closely on the 2020 expungement legislation as a staffer with former Rep. David LaGrand.
Bipartisan agreement on automatic expungement was “such a massive breakthrough” that will ultimately allow thousands of otherwise eligible Michigan residents to enjoy the benefits of expungement without facing complicated and costly legal obstacles, he said.
“With any major piece of legislation, especially when it’s something that hasn’t been tested out in a whole lot of other states, you’re going to have a few unexpected hiccups and bumps in the road,” he said. “But overall, this has been a massive success in encouraging Michiganders to stay on the straight and narrow, knowing that this is out there for them if they do so.”
As Michigan officials, advocates and individuals with convictions get used to the automatic expungement process, observers say more work may be necessary to ensure the system runs smoothly.
Kamau Sandiford, manager of the organization Safe & Just Michigan’s Clean Slate program, said the organization has worked with individuals who may still need to go to the courts to have older convictions removed, as some offenses otherwise eligible for automatic expungement that aren’t tied to a specific criminal code could be missed by the system.
The state doesn’t have a system in place notifying individuals whether their convictions have been expunged or are expungement-eligible, Sandiford added.
He noted the state of Utah has a process for informing individuals what has and hasn’t been automatically expunged from their record and hopes Michigan agencies will consider following suit.
“We hope to see some type of portal developed at some point that will allow people to readily access their records to determine what offenses have and will be automatically expunged,” Sandiford said.
The Michigan Sheriffs’ Association and other groups have questioned how felonies automatically dropping from a person’s record would impact their ability to purchase firearms, although the automatic felony set asides needed for some individuals to make a firearm purchase likely won’t be recognized in federal databases without direct intervention from courts or the state.
Matt Saxton, executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association and a retired sheriff, said he hasn’t heard much feedback from his members since the process took effect in April. At this point, it’s “really hard to tell if there’s been much of a change” from the law enforcement perspective, he said.
Saxton said some of the group’s initial concern was timing: automatic expungement of certain felony crimes was happening just as stricter firearm laws were passing through the Legislature. Ultimately, the issue of whether people with automatically expunged convictions can purchase firearms may end up in court, he said.
“At this point, we still have to wait and see,” he said.
How to check your records
If a person’s convictions are eligible for automatic expungement, the convictions will be scrubbed from state records without need for additional action.
People interested in confirming whether their convictions are expunged can run a personal records check with the state or an ICHAT search of publicly available criminal records — if a conviction doesn’t pop up, it’s been removed from the record.
The personal records check requires fingerprints and a $30 processing fee and includes all public and nonpublic criminal history information, while the ICHAT search costs $10 per name-based search and includes publicly available criminal history information.
Convictions for more serious crimes or others excluded from automatic expungement may qualify to be wiped from records at the discretion of the courts, although the process can take several months to complete.
To do so, a person must submit an application. The Michigan State Police are then required to process a Criminal History Report, and the Department of Attorney General prepares a response once those steps are completed.
At that point, an expungement hearing would take place to determine whether the applicant’s convictions will be set aside. The Department of Attorney General estimates the process typically takes about eight months.
The Michigan Department of Attorney General hosts expungement fairs around the state to assist people in person with starting the process. Additional resources are available on the state’s expungement website.
Total charges dropped from the record in first two weeks: 1,279,241
Total misdemeanors: 1,166,852
Total felonies: 112,389
Top 10 misdemeanors dropped:
- Operating with a suspended or revoked drivers license: 107,747 counts
- Larceny, $100 or less: 101,805 counts
- Operating without a license on person: 97,922 counts
- Possession of marijuana or synthetic equivalents: 67,921 counts
- Retail fraud (shoplifting), second degree: 47,561 counts
- Use of marijuana or synthetic equivalents: 45,372 counts
- Retail fraud (shoplifting), third degree: 44,671 counts
- Disturbing the peace: 44,591 counts
- Operating on a suspended or revoked license or allowing a suspended person to operate, second offense: 39,389 counts
- Drunk disorderly person: 25,108 counts
Top 10 felonies dropped:
- Larceny in a building: 20,610 counts
- Carrying concealed weapons: 13,543 counts
- Possession of cocaine, heroin or other narcotic: 9,955 counts
- Deliver or manufacture marijuana or synthetic equivalents: 6,442 counts
- Receive and conceal stolen property over $100: 5,990 counts
- Unlawful driving away: 5,809 counts
- Larceny over $100: 4,341 counts
- Felony firearm: 3,951 counts
- Larceny from a motor vehicle: 3,839 counts
- Writing a check with no connected account: 2,692 counts