LANSING, Mich. – On Monday, October 12, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the most expansive automated record clearance bill in the country. Michigan’s bipartisan approach to developing the far-reaching, comprehensive Clean Slate bill and broader criminal record expungement policies are a model for state-driven criminal justice reform.
Clean Slate is a policy initiative that uses technology to automate a state’s existing criminal record clearance process, so more people already eligible to remove outdated criminal records can do so. Pennsylvania was the first state to pass Clean Slate in 2018, followed by Utah in 2019. Michigan is the third state to adopt Clean Slate legislation and its policy is the broadest to date: it is the first state to include felonies within its eligibility and the first to refrain from disqualifying otherwise eligible individuals who have unpaid legal debt.
“This is a historic day in Michigan. These bipartisan bills are a game changer for people who are seeking opportunities for employment, housing, and more, and they will help ensure a clean slate for hundreds of thousands of Michiganders,” Gov. Whitmer said. “This is also an opportunity to grow our workforce and expand access to job training and education for so many people. I am proud to sign these bills today alongside Lieutenant Governor Gilchrist and many of the bipartisan leaders who worked on them.”
Safe & Just Michigan led the campaign beginning in 2018 with a broad coalition of partners, including the ACLU of Michigan and the state’s Americans for Prosperity chapter. Their work culminated during National Expungement Week when the legislature passed the entire seven-bill Clean Slate package with wide bipartisan support; more than 84% of Representatives and 76% of Senators voted in favor.
The Crime and Justice Institute provided campaign and policy assistance to Safe and Just Michigan’s campaign, with support from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Clean Slate Initiative.
Clean Slate’s passage in Michigan represents a rare bipartisan success in a legislative session that has experienced significant delays related to the COVID-19 crisis. House Bill (HB) 4980 was sponsored by Rep. Eric Leutheuser, R-Hillsdale. It was championed by Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, a Democrat; House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering; Rep. Graham Filler, R-Dewitt; Rep. David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids; Sen. Pete Lucido, R-Shelby Township; and Sen. Sylvia Santana, D-Detroit.
“Everyone deserves the chance to build a good life for themselves and their families. But far too many people enter the criminal justice system and end up cut off from those opportunities and are pushed toward a cruel cycle of poverty and crime. That’s not right, and it creates bad outcomes for all of us,” Chatfield said. “These bills are an important step to righting that wrong and helping good people who’ve paid their debt get back on their feet. I am glad we were able to find common ground on this important issue and deliver reform that will help people statewide.”
HB 4980 creates an automated expungement process for a subset of conviction types already eligible for record clearance under Michigan law. Eligible individuals will not have to hire a lawyer, file a petition, or pay fees to clear the qualifying offense from their record. An individual can have up to four eligible misdemeanors and up to two eligible non-assaultive felonies cleared. The waiting periods, during which an individual cannot receive another conviction, are seven years for misdemeanors and 10 years for felonies.
In addition to the Clean Slate bill, six related bills expand eligibility and access to record clearance in Michigan:
- HB 4981 makes most traffic convictions, which constitute half of all criminal cases in Michigan, eligible for expungement for the first time.
- HB 4982 creates a process to expunge most marijuana convictions that would have been legal as of Dec. 6, 2018, the date recreational marijuana was legalized in Michigan.
- HB 4983 reduces the waiting period to file a petition to expunge a misdemeanor conviction to three years.
- HB 4984 increases the number of convictions an individual can have expunged through the petition-based process to an unlimited number of non-assaultive misdemeanors and up to three felonies. However, an individual cannot have more than two assaultive felonies expunged in a lifetime, or have multiple convictions of the same offense expunged if the maximum sentence for that offense is 10 or more years of incarceration.
- HB 4985 allows multiple convictions for certain offenses arising from a single event to become eligible for expungement as a single offense.
- HB 5120 creates a rebuttal process for marijuana expungements and specifies that the burden of proof is on prosecutors.
Expungement of old criminal records offers a path to increasing employability for Michiganders, but the existing petition-based process is so complex, expensive, and cumbersome that it effectively prevents most individuals who are eligible to clear their records from doing so. A University of Michigan study found that only 6.5% of Michiganders eligible for expungement receive one within five years of becoming eligible. This demonstrates the need for Clean Slate, wherein the burden is shifted from the individual to the appropriate state agencies to process the expungement as soon as the individual becomes eligible.
The effective implementation of Clean Slate will have a significant impact on clearing barriers to better jobs, housing, and other opportunities for many Michiganders. Conservative estimates indicate that several hundred thousand individuals will receive relief in Wayne County (Detroit) alone, which represents around 18% of Michigan’s population.
“I can’t say enough about the work of Safe & Just Michigan and how their hard work will impact millions of people, not just in Michigan but across the nation as the potential that Clean Slate holds becomes evident,” said Len Engel, CJI’s Director of Policy and Campaigns. “Everyone who worked on this moved mountains to keep this vital reform on the agenda, and doing so in a legislative year like this one with COVID is even more impressive. CJI is extremely proud to have worked alongside state leaders and our Clean Slate Initiative partner Code for America. And the good fortune to have had the support, advocacy and leadership of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative backing this effort.”