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Whitmer signs 'Clean Slate' legislation aiming to expand expungement opportunities

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation Monday that would expand the criteria for expungements related to traffic offenses, marijuana convictions and minor crimes, even making some offenses eligible for automatic expungement.

Whitmer signed the seven-bill "Clean Slate" package alongside Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, Attorney General Dana Nessel, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and the bills' sponsors. House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, made a priority of allowing the bills to get floor votes for approval.

The legislation creates guidelines for applicants, the courts and police agencies as to what convictions are eligible for expungement, how long after a conviction a person can apply and how nonpublic records on expungements are to be maintained. 

Each of the bills passed by wide margins in the House and Senate, with some pushback about the lack of expungement provisions for people with a driving while intoxicated provision. 

Whitmer on Monday celebrated the bipartisan work that went into the bills, noting it would open employment and wage increase opportunities for people across the state. 

She also encouraged those with criminal records to vote on Nov. 3. 

"If you've served your time, you need to know your rights," Whitmer said. "If you have a criminal record in Michigan, you can vote in our elections."

Rep. Graham Filler, the DeWitt Republican who chairs the House Judiciary Committee and was instrumental in the bills' passage, celebrated the signing and noted the legislation's roots in Detroit, where thousands of people are expected to benefit from the laws.

The package brings proportionality to the criminal justice system, ensuring the punishment fits the crime, Filler said.

"These nation-leading reforms will directly lead to increased public safety in the state of Michigan," Filler said. "You're in your community, you're invested in your community, you're spending time with your family, you're working, you're accessing housing. We have less recidivism, less victims. This is what happens when you access expungement."

In April, when the laws are set to take effect, Michigan will be the first state in the nation to have an automatic expungement process. In Detroit alone, Duggan estimated roughly 80,000 people will have opportunities under the legislation who didn't before.

The legislation requires the state to develop a software system over the next two years that would process automatic expungements within seven years on misdemeanor convictions with a punishment of less than 92 days or within 10 years of non-assaultive felonies.

Felonies and misdemeanors over 93 days cannot be automatically set aside if a person has more than one conviction for an assaultive crime or attempted assaultive crime, crimes of dishonesty, human trafficking, crimes against minors or seniors or any offense punishable by more than 10 years in prison.

A court could reinstate a conviction if an automatic expungement was granted erroneously or the court found the person failed to make a good-faith effort to pay restitution.

The bills would also allow people to apply to have the crimes erased from their records if a prior misdemeanor marijuana offense would have been legal after the effective date of marijuana legalization in Michigan on Dec. 6, 2018. If prosecutors don’t rebut the claim within 60 days, the person’s record is expunged. If they do, the issue will be set for a hearing.

The bills also allow people to apply for expungement for certain traffic offenses, though the expungement doesn’t guarantee the item will be removed from the Secretary of State’s criminal record for an individual.

The bills do not allow for expungements of a felony subject to life imprisonment, an operating while intoxicated conviction, a traffic offense that causes injury or death, or a domestic violence felony if preceded by a misdemeanor.

People are limited to the automatic expungement of two felonies and four misdemeanors in a lifetime.

Applicants for more than one felony expungement must wait seven years after sentencing, parole, probation or imprisonment, whichever is latest. People with one or more serious misdemeanors or one felony conviction must wait five years. Applicants can apply for one or more misdemeanors after waiting three years.

The legislation would limit an individual’s expungements to two assaultive crimes or no more than one felony conviction for the same offense if punishable by more than 10 years in prison.

The legislation requires Michigan State Police to maintain a non-public record that could be referred to by courts or law enforcement to be used for reference on licensing or previous offenses. The record would be exempt from public record requests.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com