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Committee to take up package of bills to expand expungement laws

Prison bars
flickr user Thomas Hawk

Lawmakers at the state Capitol will start looking at bills to take certain crimes off people’s criminal records. A committee hearing on a package of bills is scheduled for Tuesday.

The goal is to expand the state’s expungement laws. That way more people could set aside criminal convictions for low level crimes or those that happened long ago.

Republican Representative Graham Filler (R-DeWitt) is chair of the committee that will hear the bills. He said these bills are an “economic driver.”

“Should an individual really be sort of stopped from having good job prospects for the rest of their life for a felony or misdemeanor or felony that happened ten, fifteen, twenty years ago? I don’t think anyone on the political spectrum would think that’s so,” Filler said in an interview.

One of the bills would allow for some crimes to be automatically taken off a person’s record after 10 years.

Livingston County Prosecutor, Bill Vailliencourt is the president of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan. He said the group is in favor of expanding the state’s expungement laws, but he’s concerned about automatic expungement because every case is different.

“There may not necessarily be a one-size fits all approach to addressing those circumstances,” Vailliencourt said in an interview. “So, we just want to make sure that there’s the ability for victims and prosecutors to be heard.”

Current law allows for a person to have one felony or two misdemeanors set aside. Some of the bills would increase the number of convictions that can be set aside and change the time period a person has to wait before they can petition the court for expungement. Another would change the process to set aside some marijuana offenses.

Filler said the committee will likely hear testimony on the bills for a couple weeks before moving them.

“This does impact hundreds of thousands of people,” Filler said. “And then, presuming that we’ll make some small changes here and there, but I think it’s got support across the board.”

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR. Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN. Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker. Follow her on Twitter at @Cheyna_R
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