Michigan prosecutors reviewing cases after lab scientist fired over mishandled documents

Opinion: New plan would help deserving people get back on their feet

Graham Filler
State Rep. Graham Filler speaks about the new bill Monday.

Tamika Mallory dreams of starting an in-home adult foster care business. All that is holding her back are a couple of mistakes she made two decades ago.

The Detroit resident has three misdemeanors on her record -- two related to marijuana and one from a traffic offense. Even though she has been crime-free for 20 years, the mistakes she made as a younger woman are keeping her from obtaining the license she needs to start her business.

Project Clean Slate Attorney Stephani LaBelle, left, and her client Tamika Mallory speak at a press conference Monday on the east side of Detroit to announce a new bill speeding up expungement of the criminal records of low risk offenders.

There are tens of thousands of people across the state in similar situations. Their stories are the inspiration behind our plan to make it easier for people to move beyond their criminal histories. Legislation introduced last week by a bipartisan coalition of state representatives, will make Michigan a national leader in criminal justice reform by greatly expanding the number of people who are eligible to clear their records and access opportunities to help them move on with their lives and provide for their families.

A University of Michigan Law School study published this year found that people whose criminal records are cleared tend to experience a sharp upturn in their wage and employment trajectories. On average, wages went up by 25 percent within two years of the expungement.

These results were observed under our state’s current expungement law, which is very narrow in scope. Right now, only individuals with one felony or two misdemeanors qualify, and they must wait a minimum of five years before they can start the process.

The legislative solution we’re working on would extend the opportunity to an additional 100,000 people or more in Wayne County alone. It would allow for up to three felonies and four misdemeanors to be set aside, expand eligible crimes to include traffic offenses and shorten the timeline for eligibility. 

A key piece of this legislative package would ensure that people with past marijuana convictions will have those convictions set aside if the behavior that led to the conviction would be permissible under current law. Most of these individuals would be eligible to petition for expungement immediately.

The final piece of our plan would provide automatic expungement for people with minor felonies and misdemeanors after they spend 10 years crime free. This measure will knock down barriers and make it easier for people to earn a decent living, obtain stable housing and access education and training opportunities to help them get ahead.

Right now, many people who are eligible for expungement do not realize they are qualified, and others are deterred by the cost and time associated with the long and complicated process. The University of Michigan Law School study found that just 6.5% of people who qualify received an expungement within five years of becoming eligible. This bill will improve the process to make expungement as simple and painless as possible for people who pose very little threat to public safety.

State Rep. Graham Filler of DeWitt is serving his first term in the Michigan House representing residents of Gratiot and Clinton counties. A former assistant attorney general, he now serves as chair of the House Judiciary Committee.