Expungement Bill Package Passes House with Overwhelming Bi-Partisan Support

As your State Representative, public safety and prudent disbursement of taxpayer dollars are two of my top priorities. When it comes to criminal justice reform, some would argue that these priorities conflict. After all, dangerous criminals belong behind bars where they pose no threat to the public, but each Michigan prisoner costs the taxpayers approximately $37,000 per year to keep locked up. The answer, it seems to me, is to ensure that violent criminals remain in prison while non-violent offenders may be allowed to pay their debt to society in a more cost-effective manner. This strategy could be implemented by reducing or eliminating certain mandatory sentencing guidelines, allowing early parole through the adoption of “good time” legislation, and simply locking up less people by reforming our state’s bail laws.

No politician wants to appear “soft on crime,” but, many legislators are beginning to accept the fact that the old “lock-them-up-and-throw-away-the-key” strategy is too expensive, racially and socio-economically discriminatory, and, ultimately, does not make us any safer.

While it is true that releasing non-violent offenders from prison will save the taxpayers millions of dollars each year, there remains a significant cost associated with reintegrating returning citizens into society. Imagine trying to get a job or find a place to live if you had a criminal conviction on your record!

That is where expungement comes in.

The expungement of records is a court procedure whereby a court orders the annulment and destruction of records of an arrest and/or criminal court proceeding. This “annulment and destruction” applies only to the public record. The courts and the police would still have access to records of past convictions, but, for the purposes of housing, employment, education, etc., those records would be sealed.

Expungement is legal in Michigan under certain limited circumstances. The bill package that recently passed the House of Representatives would expand and enhance the procedure. Please read on for an explanation of the proposed legislation.

Summary of House Bills 4980-4985, 5120 of 2019

On November 5, 2019, a package of bills (HB 4980-4985, 5120) passed the Michigan House of Representatives by a vote of 95-13. If passed by the Senate and signed by the Governor, this package of bills will increase the number of felonies and misdemeanors that can be set aside under the current petition process; allows certain traffic offenses and marijuana convictions to be set aside; as well as setting up a system to automatically expunge certain crimes if certain criteria are met; and lastly it allows multiple crimes that are part of the same transaction to be counted as one, if certain criteria are met.

One of the bills within the expungement bill package, titled the automatic set aside, will allow 2 felony convictions and 4 misdemeanor convictions during an individual’s lifetime to be set aside without filing an application if the individual has completed any term of imprisonment, have no criminal charges pending against them, and have not been convicted of any criminal offense during the applicable time period. An individual is not eligible for automatic expungement if they have more than 1 convictions for an assaultive crime. And assaultive crimes, crimes of dishonesty, and other serious crimes are not eligible to be automatically set aside.

The opportunity to clean a criminal record will not be available to people who are serving or have served a sentence for felony convictions of a felony resulting in the maximum punishment of life imprisonment, a violation or attempted violation of criminal sexual conduct, operating while intoxicated, traffic offense that causes injury or death, any traffic offense committed by an individual with an endorsement on their operator’s license to operate a motor vehicle, a felony conviction of domestic violence, human trafficking, or terrorism.

In cases of marihuana convictions an individual may apply to have one or more misdemeanor marihuana convictions expunged from their state and local record, so long as the misdemeanors fall within the criterion of not constituting as a crime after December 6, 2018 (the recreational marihuana act effective date). Further instructions to apply for expungement of multiple marihuana convictions can be answered by local courts.

In cases where an individual has three felony convictions they may apply to have all three conviction expunged. An applicant may not have more than a total of two convictions for assaultive crimes. An applicant may not have one or more of the same felony offense if the sentence is punishable by more than ten years.

Part of the expungement bill package also establishes “one bad night” offenses which allow more than one felony or misdemeanor offenses to be treated as a single felony or misdemeanor conviction if they occurred within a 24-hour period and arose out of the same transaction. Crimes that will be excluded from being eligible to be combined are an assaultive crime, a crime involving the possession of a dangerous weapon, a crime with a maximum penalty of ten years or more imprisonment, and any crime committed in a different jurisdiction that would be considered an assaultive crime if committed in Michigan.

The need for criminal justice reform in Michigan has been a topic of surprising bipartisanship in Lansing and the broader political landscape for the last several years. This bill package is an excellent step towards keeping citizens out of jail and stabilizing communities that have been negatively impacted by past criminal justice philosophies that emphasized punishment over understanding and second-chances. This is why I held a Community Conversation at the Ypsilanti Community and Senior Center about the proposed expungement bills. There I had invited State Representative Tenisha Yancey and the lead sponsor of the expungement bill package State Representative David LaGrand to speak about the effects of this bill package for our friends and neighbors who will be positively affected. The Community Conversation was a tremendous success and I hope to be hosting similar events in the future.