Whitmer signs Clean Slate Michigan, allowing automatic felony expungement

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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Clean Slate Michigan legislation is ‘good for our families, our small businesses and our economy as a whole.’ (Screenshot)

Hundreds of thousands more Michiganders will become eligible to have their criminal records wiped clean under legislation signed into law by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday.

Research indicates the package will have a sweeping impact on people who often struggle to get better jobs, higher wages and secure housing as they carry a criminal record despite years of good behavior.

“For too long, criminal charges have created barriers to employment, barriers to housing and others for hundreds of thousands of Michiganders. These bipartisan bills are going to be a game-changer,” Whitmer said.

“When we help people get a good job so they can put a roof over their head, it is good for our state. It is good for our families, our small businesses and our economy as a whole. It’ll bring down the recidivism rate even more. And most importantly, it’s the right thing to do.”

The multi-bill package passed both chambers of the state Legislature with bipartisan support. While it’s not clear how many more people will be eligible for record clearing under the new law, some have estimated it will more than double the existing eligibility poll.

The most significant bill is the Clean Slate legislation, which would automatically clear records of those who don’t commit another crime. Now, people have to apply to have records clean in a process that is often costly and confusing.

Researchers at the University of Michigan found that only 6.5 percent of people successfully expunge a conviction from their record within five years of becoming eligible.

Beginning two years from the date it was signed, the Clean Slate law will expunge misdemeanors seven years after sentencing and felonies 10 years after sentencing or when they’re released from incarceration (whichever comes later).

Under the new law, people will be able to get up to two felonies and four misdemeanors automatically cleared. Crimes punishable by more than 10 years in prison, violent crimes, “crimes of dishonesty” such as forgery, human trafficking and other serious crimes aren’t eligible.

The Clean Slate law makes Michigan a nationwide leader in expungement reform. Only Utah, California, Pennsylvania and New Jersey allow low-level offenses to be automatically cleared from records, and Michigan will now be the first to include low-level felonies in the automatic process.

A separate bill in the package would expand the existing expungement system (which requires application, rather than the automatic process) to allow for more charges to be expunged.

Under the new law, up to three felonies and an unlimited amount of misdemeanors could be expunged, but no more than two assaultive crimes and no more than one felony if it’s punishable by more than 10 years in prison.

Other bills signed Monday will go into effect in 180 days (April 10, 2021). They will:

  • Make it possible for misdemeanors to be expunged after three years, felonies after seven years and serious misdemeanors or a single felony to five years, shortening the waiting time to apply for expungement.
  • Allow felonies or misdemeanors from the same 24-hour period — or as lawmakers have called it, “one bad night” — to be treated as one conviction for expungement. Assaultive crimes, crimes involving a dangerous weapon and crimes punishable by 10 or more years in person can’t be included.
  • Bar certain crimes from expungement, including crimes that can bring a sentence of life in prison, domestic violence, traffic offenses where someone was seriously injured or died, child abuse, sexual assault, and driving while intoxicated — a point of contention for some lawmakers who argued DUIs should be included.
  • Create a process for people convicted of multiple marijuana misdemeanors to apply for streamlined expungement, which would require prosecutors who choose to challenge the expungement to prove that the crime would still have been a crime if it occurred after adult-use marijuana became legal in 2018. Aggrieved parties would also be allowed to ask for a court to reconsider their decision on an expungement request.
  • Whitmer said the bill related to the expungement of marijuana crimes is “in response to the referendum that the voters approved to legalize marijuana in 2018” and said it fulfills a 2018 campaign promise to forgive certain marijuana-related crimes.

Studies have found expungement contributes to higher wages and better jobs for people with criminal records without impacting public safety. One study found those who had their records expunged earned an average of 23 percent more the following year.

“This is bigger than criminal justice reform,” Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist said Monday. “This is about economic opportunity and full participation in our economy and our society.”

Criminal justice advocates  praised the package passing on Monday.

“For too long, our justice system has been stacked against Black and Brown people and individuals with lower incomes, and a criminal record has unfortunately continued those consequences in perpetuity,” said Michigan League for Public Policy President Gilda Jacobs in a statement.

“Today, the governor struck a significant blow for racial equity and justice, economic security, and the true idea of redemption, while better supporting Michigan businesses, and we hope this momentum for smart and thoughtful justice reforms will continue.”

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