13 October 2020

What Does It Mean to Have a “Clean Slate”? A Look at Michigan’s New Expungement Laws

On October 12, 2020, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed the “Clean Slate” Bills into law, reforming Michigan’s criminal expungement process.  The seven-bill package enjoyed broad bipartisan support in both the Michigan House and Senate.  These new laws make sweeping changes that will make it easier for people who have committed certain misdemeanors and non-violent felonies to have their records expunged.

Key changes include:

  • Creating an automatic process (within 2 years of the law’s effective date of April 10, 2021) for setting aside eligible misdemeanors after 7 years and eligible non-assaultive felonies after 10 years.
  • Expanding eligibility for various traffic offenses and a greater number and scope of felony offenses. (Increased eligibility does not apply to assaultive offenses, offenses involving a dangerous weapon, felonies carrying a maximum sentence of life in prison, or driving under the influence.)
  • Revising the waiting periods before being eligible to apply for expungement.
  • Treating multiple felonies or misdemeanors arising from the same transaction as a single felony or misdemeanor conviction, so long as (1) the offenses happened within 24 hours of one another and (2) the offenses do not involve assault, possession of a dangerous weapon, or carry a penalty of 10 or more years in prison.
  • Permitting a person to apply to set aside one or more marijuana misdemeanor offenses if the offense would not have been a crime if committed after the use of recreational marijuana by adults became legal in the state.

The keystone of the Clean Slate legislation is the forthcoming automated record-clearing process. This reform addresses the fact that in Michigan “among those legally eligible for expungement, just 6.5% obtain it within five years of eligibility,” according to Michigan Law Professors J.J. Prescott and Sonja Starr in this Harvard Law Review article.

Michigan’s Clean Slate legislation is part of a broader criminal reform effort going on across the country.  Michigan is only the third state to pass automated record-clearing legislation (behind Pennsylvania and Utah)—and the first state to automatically clear qualifying felonies. Similar legislative measures have been introduced or passed in states as diverse as Connecticut, Washington, North Carolina, Louisiana, and New Jersey, and similar bipartisan legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The new laws go into effect on April 10, 2021.  The full text of the Clean Slate Bills can be found in the links below.

Miller Johnson attorneys are prepared to assist clients in determining eligibility under the Clean Slate Bills.  Contact your Miller Johnson attorney for more information.