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Advocates celebrate three years of Michigan expungement law

A gavel rests on the judge’s bench in the courtroom of the 39th Air Base Wing legal office at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, Nov. 14, 2019.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Joshua Joseph Magbanua
A gavel rests on the judge’s bench in the courtroom of the 39th Air Base Wing legal office at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, Nov. 14, 2019.

Over 280,000 Michiganders have seen misdemeanors and felonies removed from their records under the state’s “clean slate” law.

That’s according to a report from the group Safe and Just Michigan.

Executive Director John Cooper said criminal history isn’t a good way of telling whether someone is a threat to society.

“You know, the research shows that after 3-4 years, a person who has gotten into trouble is no more likely than a member of the general public to get in trouble. So, we shouldn’t treat them any different. And that’s why we’re starting to seal these records,” Cooper told reporters during a discussion Thursday.

Three years have now passed since the “clean slate” law took effect. Advocates say it has helped dramatically increase the number of people eligible for expungements in Michigan.

Sarah Munro is with the Michigan Advocacy Program. She said prior convictions can prevent people from finding housing and well-paying jobs, making expungements that much more important.

“These cases, you know, they check all the boxes because they actually get at the root of a lot of the reasons people are stuck in poverty,” Munro said.

Parts of the law took effect across two phases.

The first phase, which took effect in 2021, expanded eligibility for expungement. It allowed people to petition a court to expunge up to three felonies and an unlimited number of misdemeanors.

The second phase took effect a year ago and created a system for automatic expungements. Under the law, Michigan State Police created a computer system to clear up to two felonies from someone’s record after 10 years and four misdemeanor offenses that carried sentences of 93 days or longer.

It also required local courts to automatically seal misdemeanors with 92-day or less sentences.

Cooper said that’s been a positive change but suggests the state should create a way for people to look up their own records.

“The single biggest barrier we’re seeing for people with the automatic expungement is they either haven’t heard about it, or they’ve heard about it but don’t know how to confirm that their record is eligible or that their record has been sealed,” Cooper said.

Meanwhile, Safe and Just Michigan Program Manager Kamau Sandiford said officials should be providing better oversight of background check companies.

“People may have had convictions that were expunged, either through the automated process or through the petition process, but those convictions are still showing up on commercial background companies, or background checks run by employers or landlords,” Sandiford said.

Another concern related to a lack of uniformity for how judges are applying petition-based expungements and interpreting the law surrounding them.