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State's new DUI expungement law takes effect this week

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

A new Michigan law making expungements available to those with a first-time offense of the state's drunken-driving law went into effect this month. 

The bipartisan bills signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in August went into effect Saturday, opening the process this week to an estimated 200,000 non-repeat offenders.

The law allows individuals convicted of a first-time drunken driving offense to petition a court to set aside the conviction several years after sentencing.

Offenders would not be eligible for expungement under the new law if their violation resulted in serious injury or death, if they were driving a commercial vehicle with a commercial driver's license, or if the incident occurred when a child under the age of 16 was in the car. 

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

Attorney Kyona McGhee of Project Clean Slate, assist clients in the expungement process for criminal offenses at the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles hiring event.

Under the laws that took effect Saturday, petitioners would have to wait three years after their offense to ask a judge for an expungement. A later Senate bill that was signed into law in September and takes effect March 9 expands the waiting period to five years.

"This is something that came across my desk numerous times while I was in the House too, with constituents calling me losing their jobs or unable to get promotions or seek out a new job that they really liked," Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, said in an online press conference Tuesday. 

"I was amazed to learn just how widespread this problem was," he said. 

Rep. Tenisha Yancey, D-Harper Woods, a sponsor of the bill, has been an advocate of many of the so-called "clean slate" expungement laws passed by the Legislature over the past two years.

Yancey has spoken openly not only of her own efforts to expunge her retail fraud and firearm convictions from when she was a teen, but also her experience as someone whose father was killed by a drunken driver shortly before her 14th birthday.

"These laws are extremely important to me," said Yancey. 

"Most of these people have committed these offenses 25 years ago and it's still lingering on their records," she said, impacting job and housing options and "continuously punishing" them.

The bills were sponsored by Yancey, McBroom, and Rep. Joe Bellino, R-Monroe.

Several criminal justice reform groups — including Safe & Just Michigan, Nation Outside and MichiganWorks! — are partnering to help people manage the process, Safe & Just Michigan announced Tuesday. 

“The last thing we want is for these great new laws to go unused because the legal process is still too confusing, expensive or difficult to access,” said Kamau Sandiford, a program manager for Safe & Just Michigan.

The group estimated about 200,000 non-repeat offenders would be eligible for the expungement program. In 2019 alone, there were 30,000 convictions of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the group said. 

When the legislation was signed into law last year, Mothers Against Drunk Driving-Michigan opposed the measure. The group's program coordinator Sue Strong said at the time that, in many cases, a person arrested on a first-time offense has driven while drunk on multiple occasions before

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