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Legislature approves bill package to help more people clear criminal records

prison bars

The Michigan Legislature has approved a package of bills that would help more people clear their criminal records of certain convictions. They now go to Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

The seven bill package is composed of House Bill 4980, HB 4981, HB 4982, HB 4983, HB 4984, HB 4985, and HB 5120. The Legislature has given itself a period of two years to put the system in place.

HB 4980 creates an automatic system for the clearing of criminal records without an application. Through the system, up to two felonies and four misdemeanors could be automatically cleared. Misdemeanors are to be expunged seven years after sentencing, and felonies are to be cleared ten years after sentencing or the person's release from incarceration. Exceptions include assaultive crimes, injury or serious impairment, and death or human trafficking.

HB 4981 specifies which convictions are not eligible for expungement, including felonies that carry a maximum sentence of life in prison, driving while intoxicated, traffic offenses causing injury or death, and child abuse.

HB 4982 simplifies the process of applying for expungement for marijuana-related offenses. The bill includes a "rebuttable presumption that a conviction for a misdemeanor marihuana offense... was based on activity that would not have been a crime if committed on or after December 6, 2018," or when marijuana was legalized for adult recreational use in the state.

HB 4983 updates the waiting period to apply for expungement, which can vary from three to seven years after a person has completed a prison sentence, parole, or probation.

HB 4984 increases the number of misdemeanors eligible for expungement by application. Previously, the limit was one felony or two misdemeanors; the felony could be expunged but not the misdemeanors, or the two misdemeanors could be expunged. Now, up to three felonies and an unlimited number of misdemeanors are eligible for expungement.

HB 4985 says that multiple felonies and misdemeanors from the same 24-hour period are to be treated as one conviction for the purposes of expungement, aside from assaultive crimes.

HB 5120 applies to marijuana charges, and says that anyone aggrieved by a court's ruling on an application for a marijuana expungement can appeal or request a rehearing. 

State Senator Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) says the bills received a great deal of bipartisan support in both the state House and Senate.

"We tried to say look, if you’ve stayed on track for a number of years, you’ve not committed another crime, your offense was petty in the first place and it wasn’t anything violent, we should wipe that away," he says.

Irwin says the bills have the potential to impact hundreds of thousands of Michiganders.

"We’ve got 235,000 people who still harbor a record for use or simple possession of cannabis. There’s another several hundred thousand people who have records for driving while (their) license (was) suspended or driving without insurance," says Irwin.

Irwin says marijuana and cannabis possession charges have done a lot of harm in Black communities.

"We have an enormous number of people in Michigan who have marijuana possession on their records, some are white, some are Black," Irwin says. "But what we know is that if you were a young Black man in Michigan, prior to legalization, you were 3.5 times more likely to be arrested for possession, despite similar rates of usage."

Not all senators were pleased with the bills. Senator Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) says he was disappointed to see that there were no provisions included for those with alcohol-related DUI convictions.

"This is a big deal, this is keeping people from jobs, this is keeping people from being able to support their families, and it's a punishment that's going far beyond what the law actually prescribes is an appropriate discipline for these indiscretions," McBroom says.

McBroom says he voted no on the bill package in protest.

The Senate also recently approved a separate bill package designed to speed up the process of expungement for juvenile records.

Caroline is a third year history major at the University of Michigan. She also works at The Michigan Daily, where she has been a copy editor and an opinion columnist. When she’s not at work, you can find her down at Argo Pond as a coxswain for the Michigan men’s rowing team. Caroline loves swimming, going for walks, being outdoors, cooking, trivia, and spending time with her two-year-old cat, Pepper.
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