Michigan might soon join a short list of states that automatically expunge criminal records for individuals with some kinds of convictions.
A bill recently introduced into the state legislature would automate the process of record expungement, which is currently a multi-step, expensive process. Dubbed the Clean Slate Bill, it’s one in a collection of bipartisan bills about record sealing reform that the House Judiciary Committee will review next week.
Right now, record expungement in Michigan requires a $50 fee, getting fingerprints taken and an application notarized, sending the application to law enforcement officers and prosecutors, and a hearing in front of a judge who will make the final decision. According to a study from the University of Michigan Law School, only 6.5 percent of people will have their records expunged within five years of becoming eligible to do so, and 90 percent of people who are eligible do not apply.
To be eligible for automatic record expungement under the proposed law, a person must meet a number of requirements. Convictions cannot be for assault or serious misdemeanor, such as stalking or breaking and entering. The person cannot have more than two felonies or four misdemeanors, and they must have paid restitution. The offenses in question cannot have a maximum sentence of over 10 years, and 10 years must have passed since the person was last monitored (in prison, jail, probation, or parole) by the criminal justice system.
Currently, Michigan law allows people with one felony or two misdemeanors to apply for record expungement five years after they were last monitored by the criminal justice system.
Under the new bill, some types of offenses would require application for expungement. Though people with traffic offenses are not eligible for record expungement under present Michigan law, the Clean Slate Bill would allow those with low-level traffic offenses, excluding drunk driving, to apply for expungement after a three- to seven-year waiting period. Misdemeanors from marjiuana offenses would also require application.
Record expungement means lower levels of recidivism and higher wages. The same study by U-M Law School found that only slightly over four percent of people whose records are expunged will be convicted of a crime in the five years after their records are sealed, and only 0.6 percent will be convicted of a violent crime in that period. The study also found that within two years of having their records expunged, formerly incarcerated individuals saw wage increases of 25 percent.
Pennsylvania and Utah are currently the only states with automatic expungement laws, though a similar bill was sent to California’s governor last week. In Pennsylvania, automatic expungement cost about $3 million in administrative and training costs to put into practice. Legislators have not yet announced an estimated cost for the similar proposed program.
Clean slate legislation, which is gaining popularity across the country, is generally a bipartisan effort. In Pennsylvania, advocates from libertarian and conservative groups joined forces with liberal coalitions, and politicians from both sides of the aisle supported the bill. In Michigan, the sponsor of the Clean Slate Bill is Rep. Eric Leutheuser, R-Hillsdale. Sponsors of other bills in the same record sealing bill package include Rep. David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids; Rep. Luke Meerman, R-Coopersville; Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor; and Rep. Pauline Wendzel, R-Bainbridge Township.
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