A Clean Slate: MI Legislature Approves Automatic Expungement Bills

A new set of bills in Lansing could help thousands of Michiganders get a fresh start.

The state Legislature approved a series of bills that would automatically expunge certain crimes from public record after seven to ten years. Thousands of people across the state will benefit from the removal of old crimes from their public record.

Traverse City criminal defense lawyer Gerald Chefalo says it will offer people a fresh start, unbound from past mistakes like certain driving offenses and non-violent and non-sexual crimes.

“I’m all for it, because I think the past is the past…it’s going to really help them to live their life to the fullest,” said Chefalo. “For years, they’ve been worried about their record and how it will impede their ability to live their life.”

Now that recreational, adult-use marijuana is legal, the bill could be particularly beneficial to people with petty drug-related crimes.

“It’s got to feel horrible for people that have a record for something that now could be viewed as legal,” said Chefalo. “We’ve had major changes with how our society views marijuana and there are a lot of people out there with marijuana convictions from the past that, that can’t get rid of those, and some of the changes would help that to happen.”

It’s important to note that aggressive charges like assault cannot be expunged and neither will drunk driving.

“That doesn’t look like that’s going to change which I think is tough for a lot of people …especially if it was something that happened years and years ago,” said Chefalo.

Wexford County prosecutor Jason Elmore says there’s pros and cons to this kind of criminal justice reform.

“Now, there’s a good side of that, obviously, it makes them maybe a little bit more employable. But then there’s another argument that says well if you’re on the employer, don’t you, or shouldn’t you, be able to get to know what somebody’s criminal history is?” said Elmore.

He also notes that currently, anyone who wants something expunged has to show up in court, which sometimes gives them a face-to-face chance to apologize and be accountable.

“It’s about a balance between protection of society deterrence, some punishment, of course, but also rehabilitation, and rehabilitation must have that sense of accomplishment,” said Elmore.

Automatic expungements will begin taking place in two and a half years if the bills are signed into law by Governor Gretchen Whitmer.