Whitmer signs bill to expunge first-time drunken-driving convictions


First-time drunk driving offenders can now get their criminal records expunged in Michigan. - SHUTTERSTOCK
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  • First-time drunk driving offenders can now get their criminal records expunged in Michigan.

About 200,000 first-time drunken-driving offenders will have a chance to expunge their convictions under bipartisan legislation signed Monday by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

People convicted of driving while under the influence of marijuana, cocaine, or another Schedule I drug are also eligible for expungement.

“No one should be defined by a mistake they have made in the past,” Whitmer said in a statement. “These bills allow Michiganders to move on from a past mistake in order to have a clean slate. We must clear a path for first-time offender so that all residents are able to compete for jobs with a clean record and contribute to their communities in a positive way.”

Whitmer also signed a bill to keep the state’s legal blood-alcohol level at .08. The legislation prevents the limit from increasing to .10 under a sunset clause in the law.

Under the expungement bill, people with one operating while intoxicated (OWI) violation would be able to ask a judge to clear their public record of the conviction so it’s not detected in a background check. The idea is to offer a fresh start for first-time offenders.

Expungements wouldn’t be automatic. Offenders are required to submit a petition to the court, and a judge would have the final say.

Offenses that caused death or serious injury would not be eligible.

John S. Cooper, executive director of Safe & Just Michigan, which opposes mass incarceration, lauded the legislation as “a long-awaited chance for a fresh start for tens of thousands of Michiganders whose opportunities have been limited by a single old DUI conviction.”

“Drunk driving is a serious problem in Michigan, but permanently limiting a person’s ability to work and drive based on a one-time, decades-old mistake does not make sense,” Cooper said. “People who can show that their DUI conviction was a one-time mistake should have an opportunity to make a fresh start.”

The ACLU also supports the expungement bill.

“We are honored to work alongside many coalition partners to shed light on the needlessly harsh and racially biased criminal legal system that especially impacts youth, Black people, and communities of color,” Shelli Weisberg, political director for ACLU of Michigan, said.“The expungement law is another step forward in transforming our criminal legal system so that people have the opportunity to be restored and can contribute to their communities. We urge lawmakers to continue on this path of reform until the work is done.”

In October, Whitmer signed a “clean slate” bill that allows residents convicted of many pot-related crimes to have an opportunity to clear the offenses from their criminal record.

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