Michigan, are you ready for a fresh start?

Your criminal record may already be expunged, but how would you know?

On April 11, 2023, Clean Slate Automatic Expungement arrived in Michigan. This new law clears away old criminal records from people who have remained crime-free for a period of years, opening doors of opportunity in jobs, housing and education.

While automatic expungement is a step forward for Michigan because it makes the expungement process free and basically effortless, the laws surrounding it are a bit confusing. For instance, there are limits surrounding how many offenses that can be automatically expunged, which kinds of offenses are eligible and how long of a waiting period there is before a person qualifies for automatic expungement. At the same time, people can still petition to get their record expunged — and different rules exist for the petition process.

To help people understand the rules surrounding automatic expungement and determine whether they might qualify for it, we’ve created this FAQ.

An expungement is the removal of a conviction from a criminal record, or the shielding of that information from public view. The terms “expungement” and “set aside” are often used interchangeably, though “expungement” is the more well-known term. There are subtle differences between the two, however. In a true expungement, a conviction is completely erased from a criminal record. In a set-aside, that information is accessible only to officials like police officers, judges and court officials, but not to members of the public such as employers or landlords running background checks.

For the purposes of this website, we will use the more commonly known term “expungement” even though the criminal records discussed are being “set aside” and shielded from public view. This information will still be available to police and court officials, but not members of the general public.

Criminal background checks are routinely used by employers, landlords, schools and universities before granting job offers, rental opportunities or enrollment offers to people. In many cases, you can be denied a good job, a safe and affordable place to live or even a seat in a classroom because of a felony or misdemeanor on your record, even if that conviction is decades old and you have had no other legal problems since then.

Receiving an expungement shields that information from hiring managers, landlords and other members of the public. As a result, good-paying jobs and desirable homes that were once out of reach to you may become accessible. Many parents with old criminal records have been told that because they failed a background check, they aren’t welcome to join their child on a class fieldtrip or to help out in the classroom. Getting an expungement clears many of these hurdles. In fact, a recent study from the University of Michigan found that people who have received an expungement are 11 percent more likely to be employed and see their income increase by 23 percent within one year.

Clean Slate is the name of a package of laws passed in Michigan in 2020. Under Clean Slate, access to expungements was widely expanded in the following ways:

  • Michigan increased the kinds of offenses eligible for expungement.
  • The number of offenses a person is allowed to expunge was increased.
  • For the first time, traffic-related offenses became eligible for expungement.
  • Marijuana-related offenses that wouldn’t have been illegal once the state legalized recreational marijuana became eligible for expungement.
  • A plan to automate expungement for certain offenses was created.

Aside from automatic expungement, all the expungements described above are available through the court petition process. That means you have to fill out paperwork, obtain a copy of your criminal record, get fingerprinted and appear in court. While this is a time-consuming and laborious process, there are free and low-cost resources available to help you. For more information, please look HERE. For up-to-date information on expungement fairs in Michigan, please look HERE.

If you qualify for an automatic expungement, it will be granted without any action on your part. However, the waiting period for petition expungements is shorter, so some people may want to make the effort to get an expungement that way. In addition, some offenses qualify for an expungement by petition but not an automatic expungement — in this case, the only way to get an expungement is through a petition process. On the other hand, it takes more effort and expense to get a petition expungement, so you may want to wait to qualify for an automatic expungement.

Automatic expungement is a feature of Clean Slate that does what it says: it removes items from your criminal record without you having to request it. However, you will have to meet certain requirements in order to qualify for an automatic expungement. Some of the limits to automatic expungement include:

  • The kinds of offenses available for automatic expungement.
  • The number of items that can be automatically expunged from your record.
  • The length of time since the completion of your sentence and the expungement.
  • Whether you have had any “intervening convictions,” or additional convictions, between the completion of a sentence and today. For instance, if you had one felony conviction for shoplifting and completed your prison sentence in 2013, 10 years have passed and that conviction would be eligible for expungement, if you meet all other requirements. However, if you also had another conviction for any other offense since then, this may prevent your felony offense from being automatically expunged.

Michigan is unique in that it’s the only state to allow felonies to be automatically expunged. However, not every felony qualifies for automatic (or petition) expungement, so it’s important to understand what does and does not qualify. In general, here are the categories excluded from automatic expungement:

  • An assaultive crime (e.g domestic violence or assault and battery). Additionally, anyone with more than one assaultive crime on their record will be disqualified  from having any of their convictions automatically expunged. See MCL 780.621G(7) at bit.ly/SetAsides.
  • A serious misdemeanor (e.g DUI, stalking, indecent exposure, contributing to the delinquency of a minor).
  • A crime of dishonesty (e.g felony embezzlement, felony uttering and publishing).
  • Any other offense, not otherwise listed under this subsection, that is punishable by 10 or more years imprisonment (e.g home invasion-1st degree or unarmed robbery).
  • Any other offense, not otherwise listed under this subsection, that is punishable by 10 or more years imprisonment (e.g home invasion-1st degree or unarmed robbery).
  • Any violation of MCL 777.1 to 777.69, which involves a minor, vulnerable adult, injury or serious impairment, or death. See bit.ly/MichSentencing.
  • Any violation related to human trafficking.
  • Any other conviction which is ineligible for expungement through the petition process (e.g traffic offense causing injury or death, life offenses, any traffic offense committed by a person with a CDL, while operating a commercial motor vehicle)

The following types of convictions cannot be expunged through either the petition or automatic expungement processes:

  • Certain DUI offenses (Please note that effective Feb. 19, 2022, first-time DUI offenses may be eligible for expungement.)
  • Any offense punishable by life (see list at bit.ly/mics-life).
  • Any traffic offenses committed by a person with a commercial driver’s license (CDL) while operating a commercial vehicle.
  • Any traffic offenses causing injury or death.
  • Felony domestic violence if the individual has a prior misdemeanor domestic violence conviction.
  • Criminal Sexual Conduct (CSC) 1st-, 2nd- and 3rd-degree.
  • CSC 4th-degree if committed on or after Jan. 12, 2015.
  • Out-of-state convictions
  • Federal convictions

Safe & Just Michigan is working to get information about Clean Slate, Automatic Expungement and expungement opportunities to people throughout Michigan. Our Clean Slate website, bit.ly/SJM-CS, hosts information on how Clean Slate works and where to get free- and low-cost expungement help. We have updated information on upcoming expungement fairs on our events page located at bit.ly/EventsSJM. Additionally, we urge you to sign up for our monthly e-newsletter, where you can learn the latest on criminal justice reform legislative efforts in Michigan, at bit.ly/sjmsignup.