Michigan lawmakers OK 'clean slate' bills aiming to help thousands expunge records

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The Michigan House Thursday approved “Clean Slate bills,” the latest attempt at widespread criminal justice reform aimed to cut ballooning incarceration costs while increasing public safety.

If signed into law, advocates say the bills could help hundreds of thousands of Michiganders improve their lives.

The Senate already approved the legislation, which will move to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk.

A University of Michigan Law study found that individuals who expunged their records experienced a wage jump of 25%, attained better housing options, and increased employment likelihood by 11%.

But that study estimated only 6.5% of those able to expunge their records did so within five years of eligibility due to costs and other complications.

The package, House Bills 4980 through 4984 and HB 5120, seeks to expunge eligible misdemeanors automatically after seven years and eligible non-assault felonies after 10 years; make many traffic offenses eligible for expungement; and slice the waiting period to file an expungement request to three years.

Utah, California, Pennsylvania and New Jersey already use automatic expungement to scrub low-level crimes from public records without applicants applying for or attending a hearing.

HB 4982 aims to create a process to sideline most marijuana convictions that would have been legal as of Dec. 6, 2018, when recreational marijuana was legalized in Michigan.

HB 4984 would increase the number of misdemeanors and felonies a person can have expunged to an unlimited number of non-assault misdemeanors and up to three felonies.

A person can’t have expunged more than two assault felonies or expunge multiple convictions of the same crime if the crime’s maximum sentence is a penalty of 10 or more years of incarceration.

HB 4985 seeks to allow expungement of multiple convictions arising from a single criminal transaction as a single offense.

An assault crime, one involving a dangerous weapon, or a crime with a maximum penalty of over 10 years wouldn’t be eligible for expungement under the bill.

“Old criminal records prevent people from getting good jobs and housing – even after decades of lawful behavior – and Michigan’s current expungement process is too narrow and too burdensome to help the vast majority of people who could benefit from it,” Safe & Just Michigan Executive Director John S. Cooper said in a statement.

“This is in spite of the fact that people who receive expungements in Michigan are less likely to commit a crime than a member of the general public, and see, on average, a 23% increase in income within a year of getting their records sealed.”

Cooper called the passage “a milestone in state criminal record-sealing policy that will help hundreds of thousands of people in Michigan and help drive the national conversation on reform forward.”

Clean Slate legislation has garnered bipartisan support from a broad political spectrum ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, the Detroit Justice Center, and over 18 other organizations.

“Clean Slate won such a broad base of support because it’s easy to see how expanding access to expungements is good for everyone,” Cooper said. “It improves people’s lives, while improving economic productivity, our tax base and public safety all at the same time.”

Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary McCormack tweeted: “[T]his package will give so many a chance to improve their lives and our communities.”

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