Editorial: Offer more Michigan residents a clean slate
The Michigan House passed a seven-bill package last week with bipartisan support that would make it possible for tens of thousands of Michiganians to clear their records of past convictions. The Senate ought to iron out a kink or two and hustle this bill to the governor's desk.
The bill package would automate some expungements, and it would shorten the waiting period for others to three years from five. It would make marijuana convictions as well as low-level traffic offenses eligible for expungement. In addition, it would allow ex-cons with no more than three felonies to apply to have all offenses wiped out.
The package is a big step forward for Michigan. A criminal record is a major economic barrier to getting a job and living a normal life. Ex-cons who have paid their debts to society shouldn’t have to wait longer than necessary to be relieved of the stigma of past crimes.
And those with minor violations — like past marijuana convictions made irrelevant by the legalization of pot last year, or traffic violations long since paid in full — shouldn’t have to carry around the weight of the past.
This legislation could have a significant impact in Detroit. As it stands now, 82,000 Detroiters are eligible for expungement under current law. The new package of bills would increase that number to 214,000, according to estimates from Project Clean Slate, a city program that helps Detroiters obtain expungements.
The reforms aren’t unreasonable. They would limit expungements for assault convictions to two. Third assault convictions are set in stone.
In addition, expungement restrictions for drunken driving, first-through-third degree sexual misconduct and crimes punishable by life in prison would remain in place.
Rep. Graham Filler, R-DeWitt, is a lead sponsor of the package and says that it would make Michigan the national leader in expungement reform.
The Senate, which is expected to take up the bills this week, ought to consider amending the automatic expungement bill.
Rep. Mike Mueller, R-Linden, wanted an amendment that would require offenders to pay all restitution before being awarded automatic expungement. The amendment failed to get support.
Michigan law currently allows for offenders to go before a judge to have restitution set aside and their records expunged. Automatic expungement would take human judgement out of the equation, putting the victims at risk of being victimized all over again.
"To be eligible for automatic expungement, the offender must have restitution paid off to the victim," says Mueller. "A judge can set aside restitution, but when he does that, he's accountable to the victim."
Convicted offenders should be required to pay their debt to society before they are eligible for expungement.
But reformed criminals and scofflaws shouldn’t have to endure undue suffering and punishment from past failures.