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Bills would make more Michiganders eligible for expungement

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

A bipartisan group of Michigan lawmakers says it’s time to change state law and let more people expunge their criminal records.

Current state law only allows people convicted of certain offenses to expunge one felony or two misdemeanors. Lawmakers say that’s too narrow, and keeps too many people from really getting a second chance—especially when it comes to getting a job.

A six-bill package, which lawmakers expect to introduce in the State House later this week, would change that dramatically. The proposed legislation would:

  • Expand the number of people who qualify for expungement by allowing people with up to three felonies to petition to have all their convictions set aside if none of those convictions is an assaultive crime. If they do have an assaultive crime on their record, they can apply to have up to two felonies and four misdemeanors expunged.
  • Establish automatic expungement for people if none of their convictions are for an assaultive crime or serious misdemeanor.
  • Allow for the expungement of marijuana convictions, if the conviction is for something that is now legal.
  • Would effectively consolidate crimes “similar in nature that were committed in the same act” into a single felony for purposes of expungement, if none of those crimes were assaultive and meets other conditions.
  • Allow for the expungement of some traffic offenses, excluding crimes that involved intoxicated driving or that caused death or serious injury.

State Rep. Graham Filler (R-DeWitt) chairs the House Judiciary Committee, and supports the bills. He says they represent an “opening salvo” in a movement toward larger criminal justice reforms, and reflects the fact that “lock ‘em up, throw away the key didn’t really result in great results.”
Filler says loosening restrictions on expungement will also benefit society as a whole.

“We want people working, and we don’t believe a misdemeanor from 5, 10, 15 years ago should stop you from getting a job,” Filler said. “And Michigan’s doing well. And we’re hiring, and businesses are hiring, and we want them to be able to hire people without a worry.”

State Rep. Yousef Rabhi (D-Ann Arbor) is one of three Democrats and three Republicans sponsoring pieces of the legislation. He says the state has both a practical and moral imperative to make these changes.

“Are we going to be a state that stands up, and makes sure that we ensure that our criminal justice system truly lives up to that word, justice?” Rabhi said. “So that folks that have done their time, that have served their sentence, are now able to come back into our community and do good work.”

Filler said it’s not clear how many more people would be made eligible for expungement, though estimates suggest it could be as many as 100,000 in Wayne County alone.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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