Michigan’s expungement law is both too restrictive and too difficult to use. There are a number of pending bills to expand access, which we will discuss below. There are not yet any bills introduced to address process issues, but there are some important reforms being discussed, and we will review those in a future blog post.
Under current law, a person can only apply for expungement if they have no more than one felony conviction or two misdemeanors. That’s actually an improvement from before, when expungement was reserved for people with just one conviction. The current limits were products of reform to expand access, but they are arbitrary and unduly restrictive — particularly because they sweep in all convictions, no matter how old, and do not distinguish between separate crimes and multiple charges arising out of a single act (e.g. drug distribution, conspiracy to distribute drugs, carrying a firearm while committing a felony). There are several pending proposals in Michigan to address this issue.
The broadest is House Bill 4798, introduced by Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D–Detroit), which would permit multiple felonies to be expunged if they arise from the same criminal transaction. This would help address the problem of multiple charges arising out of a single act. This bill is pending in the House Law & Justice Committee.
HB 4790, introduced by Rep. Leslie Love (D-Detroit), HB 4835, introduced by Rep. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), and HB 5821, introduced by Rep. Klint Kesto (R-Commerce Township), propose more targeted expansions of the one-felony limit:
- HB 4790 would permit two “nonviolent” (i.e. not “assaultive” under state law) felonies to be expunged after 15 years.
- HB 4835 would permit expungement of two felonies if they “were in a continuous time sequence of 12 hours or less that displayed a single intent and goal” and “one offense is a felony-firearm offense and the other is not an assaultive crime.”
- HB 5821 would permit expungement of two felonies and an unlimited number of misdemeanors to people that complete a veteran’s treatment court program.
Another way of expanding access is addressing what crimes can be expunged from a person’s record. For example, under current law, traffic offenses are categorically excluded from expungement, no matter how minor. However, HB 4835 also proposes permitting misdemeanor traffic offenses to be expunged (if the applicant is otherwise eligible to apply). Given the number of traffic offenses prosecuted annually — the State Court Administrator’s Office reported nearly 280,000 traffic misdemeanor cases filed in 2017 alone — this could dramatically increase the number of criminal records that are eligible to be expunged.
Somewhat similarly, HB 6158, introduced by Rep. Beth Griffin (R-Mattawan), would permit expungement of any non-assaultive crime committed as a “direct result” of being a victim of human trafficking.
Finally, HB 6227, introduced by Rep. Sheldon Neeley (D-Flint), would require courts to grant expungement of certain drug convictions if marijuana is legalized through adoption of Proposal 1 in November. The bill indicates that all drug convictions (not just those for marijuana possession) would be eligible, but that does not appear to be the sponsor’s intent. Even if limited to marijuana convictions, the bill would likely impact thousands of people: nearly 50,000 people have been convicted of marijuana-related offenses just in the last five years.
Safe & Just Michigan supports all of efforts to expand the scope of expungement in Michigan; however, we believe in more significant, transformational changes to the expungement statute than those that are currently proposed. With respect to eligibility, we propose the following:
- The one felony/two misdemeanor limits on who can apply should be expanded or eliminated.
- All convictions arising out of a single criminal transaction should be treated as a single conviction.
- Traffic offenses should be eligible for expungement.
SJM proposals on process will be discussed in a future blog post. We hope you will join us in working toward making these reforms a reality in Michigan.
Read the first blog in this series: Clearing records paves the way to jobs, housing, and education
Read the second blog in this series: A Brief History of Expungement in Michigan
Read the third blog in this series: Clean Slate in Penn state