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Whitmer signs bills allowing expungement for first-time drunken driving offenses

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — First-time offenses of Michigan's drunken driving law are now eligible for expungement under legislation signed Monday by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. 

The bills signed by the governor would allow individuals convicted of a first-time drunk driving offense to petition a court to set aside the conviction several years after sentencing. An estimated 200,000 non-repeat offenders are expected to be eligible for the program. 

A judge asked for an expungement can consider whether the individual has "availed himself or herself of rehabilitative or educational programming," according to the legislation.

“No one should be defined by a mistake they have made in the past,” Whitmer said in a Tuesday statement. “These bills allow Michiganders to move on from a past mistake in order to have a clean slate."

First-time offenses of Michigan's drunken driving law are now eligible for expungement under legislation signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer Monday.

The legislation, which goes into effect in six months, does not allow for the expungement of offenses that resulted in serious injury or death. The bills were sponsored by Rep. Joe Bellino, R-Monroe, and Rep. Tenisha Yancey, D-Harper Woods.

Under the bills signed by Whitmer, petitioners would have to wait three years after their offense to ask a judge for an expungement. A bill pending in the Senate would expand that period to five years. 

The Republican-controlled Legislature passed similar legislation last session, but it was vetoed by Whitmer, a Democrat.

“Drunk driving is a serious problem in Michigan, but permanently limiting a person’s ability to work and drive based on a one-time, decades-old mistake does not make sense," said John S. Cooper, executive director for Safe & Just Michigan. "People who can show that their DUI conviction was a one-time mistake should have an opportunity to make a fresh start.”  

Sue Strong, program coordinator for Mothers Against Drunk Driving — Michigan, said the organization remains opposed to the legislation. In many cases, a person arrested on a first-time offense has driven while drunk on multiple occasions before, she said.

"They just got caught this time," Strong said. 

MADD representatives met with Whitmer's office twice at the beginning of the year to discuss the bills and suggested requiring individuals seeking expungement to use an ignition interlock device for six months to prove they were driving sober, Strong said. The proposal was never adopted. 

"I don’t see how she’s keeping our roads safe by letting this get through,” Strong said.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com