With the underutilization of the state’s current expungement process – allowing those who qualify to set aside certain convictions, which helps with gaining employment and seeing higher wages – lawmakers are looking at a variety of changes, including making it automatic.

Under current Michigan law, those with one felony and no more than two misdemeanor convictions can apply to have only the felony set aside. Those with no more than two misdemeanors can apply to have one or both set aside. Individuals can seek the expungement five years after they complete their sentence, probation or parole programs if they have not committed other crimes during that time.

Setting aside a conviction means it is closed to public access, including criminal history background checks for employment. Law enforcement is still able to access the records.

Lawmakers and advocates are looking at a variety of changes, including expanding who is eligible for a set aside and making the process automatic so more people can benefit from seeing qualifying convictions expunged.

The legislation has been in the works for most of 2019. Those involved hope to see introduction and some movement yet this year when the Legislature comes back after summer.

A recent study from two professors at the University of Michigan showed just 6.5 percent of those eligible for expungement in Michigan successfully complete the process within five years of eligibility. Advocates say the cumbersome process leads to many not taking advantage of it, even when they qualify.

The study also showed a “sharp upturn” in wage and employment when records are expunged, with wages increasing by 25 percent within two years of setting aside the convictions.

Sonja Starr, one of the researchers, during a podcast with Josh Hoe, a policy analyst with Safe & Just Michigan, said many people who qualify for expungement don’t know it’s an option. Five years after you are finished with the criminal justice system, you may not be in contact with your lawyer, she said.

It also involves physically applying, which costs money, usually requires the person to hire a lawyer, and, for those who had an unpleasant experience with the system, is not something they necessarily want to be involved in again.

“The idea of going through huge numbers of administrative hoops that involves showing up in a criminal court, going back before the judge who sentenced you and showing up a police station to get fingerprints … I think for a lot people both administratively and maybe emotionally, and financially in some cases, it is all just a lot to go through,” she said.

Rep. Graham Filler (R-DeWitt), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said he strongly believes in the concept of the expungement legislation. He said he is in the process of putting together a wide-ranging package, though details are still being worked out.

“I view them as pro-job growth. I view them as let’s get the government off the little guy; let’s not punish them forever,” he said.

John Cooper, executive director of Safe & Just Michigan, said the current law is too narrow. Many people have more than one felony. And those who are convicted can see multiple felonies or misdemeanors out of the same incident.

“What really matters is how long they have stayed out of trouble, not how long their record is,” Mr. Cooper said. “If someone stayed out of trouble for five years, they are very unlikely to get in trouble again.”

He also said those who are able to get and keep jobs after they leave the criminal justice system are the most likely to stay on the straight and narrow. But they need to get a job, which can be helped by setting aside their records.

Mr. Cooper said the group is advocating to expand the criteria so traffic offenses can be expunged and multiple convictions out of single act can be expunged. He said the group also would like to see the current limitation of one felony or two misdemeanors be eliminated or significantly expanded. Also, to make the process automatic.

Under the proposal being discussed, qualifying misdemeanors would be set aside after five years and felonies after 10 years.

The act of automatically setting aside convictions is relatively new, Mr. Cooper said, Pennsylvania passed a law a year ago, which just went into effect recently. Utah also just passed a law automatically setting aside some convictions.

Mr. Cooper said the technology required is complicated, and states are now getting to the point where that technology exists. The process has been dubbed “clean slate.”

Bob Stevenson, with the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, said the group is open to changes. But, “the devil is in the details,” he said. The top priorities for the group, he said, are ensuring law enforcement maintains access to the records when they are set aside, and that the timeline for when individuals qualify begins once they complete their sentencing, including probation or parole.

And D.J. Hilson with Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan said his group also is involved in conversations.

“In the overall picture of how things look, it is safe to say we certainly do agree there is some room for reform in this area, and we are going to continue to actively participate in all of those discussions,” he said. “Our goal obviously is to work toward a consensus of some kind. What that looks like and how that affects the system going forward is hard to say.”

Original source: www.gongwer.com
Release date: July 12, 2019