This column originally appeared in The Alpena News on April 28, 2021
We all have made mistakes and bad decisions at some point in our lives. Been at the wrong place at the wrong time. Acted recklessly or impulsively, especially in our teens and early 20s, when our brains are still developing and we’re particularly prone to testing our boundaries. And many of us have had other struggles that have impacted and influenced our behavior, including financial struggles and substance use problems and other mental health challenges.
For a lot of people, these decisions mostly live on in our own memories. We were able to move on, put the past behind us and learn from our mistakes. But for too many Michiganders whose particular mistakes came with a criminal record, the ability to move on has been a lot harder.
Luckily, a new state law that took effect this month is going to help with that.
The Michigan League for Public Policy, Safe & Just Michigan, and a number of other partner organizations worked with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to help pass the Clean Slate legislation expanding and automating adult criminal record expungement. The new Clean Slate law expands eligibility to petition for an expungement of an adult criminal record in several ways, and creates a new process that will automatically seal certain nonviolent conviction records if a person has remained conviction-free for a period of time (seven years for misdemeanors, 10 years for felonies).
The expanded eligibility to petition for an expungement of a criminal conviction took effect on April 11, 2021. This change permits a person with no more than one felony or two misdemeanor convictions on their record to petition a court to remove their conviction(s) from the public record. The automatic expungement for certain offenses is expected to take effect on Dec. 30, 2022.
The new law makes most traffic offenses, which are 50% of all criminal cases in Michigan, eligible for expungement for the first time. The Clean Slate law also creates a special process for people with marijuana convictions to apply for expungement if the conduct at issue would be legal under current law. Unlimited misdemeanors may be expunged and the new law counts multiple convictions that occurred as part of “one bad night” as one conviction. DUIs are not eligible for expungement under Clean Slate, but lawmakers are currently considering bipartisan legislation to address those convictions.
A criminal record has been a huge impediment to work, housing, education and other resources that are too often taken for granted. The Michigan League for Public Policy has been advocating for expanded and automatic criminal record expungement for years as a way to help improve the lives of thousands of justice-involved individuals and their families, promote racial equity and justice, and improve economic security. But Clean Slate will also benefit our communities and economy overall, strengthening our workforce as a whole and supporting our businesses.
In order for this law to be as effective as possible, eligible justice-involved individuals need to know about it.
Safe and Just Michigan has a lot of good information on Clean Slate available at safeandjustmi.org. Attorney General Dana Nessel has put together a helpful webpage, michigan.gov/agexpunge, that includes checklists that walk you through the expungement process and a timeline of when the different laws take effect. Michigan Legal Help also has free resources available for people who need a lawyer or legal advice at michiganlegalhelp.org.
Gov. Whitmer also recently announced a $4 million investment in the Clean Slate Pilot program at all Michigan Works! Agencies to help local residents with expungement efforts. The Michigan Works! Northeast Consortium covers Alpena and seven other northeast Michigan counties and can be reached at nemcworks.org and 989-733-8548.
We are all more than our biggest mistakes, and the new Clean Slate law will help thousands more residents clear their record and build a better life. And the League will keep advocating for other criminal justice reforms to better support our residents and their families.
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