GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Many criminal convictions are automatically being taken off thousands of people’s records across Michigan starting Tuesday.
In October 2020, the Michigan Legislature passed the Clean Slate Act, laying the path forward to develop the process. Now it’s finally a reality.
“What the Legislature’s trying to do is make it so that you’re not defined by your criminal history, that you can live up to all your potential going forward once you’ve paid for your debt to society,” Andrew Rodenhouse, a criminal defense attorney in Grand Rapids, explained.
The expungement program is an effort to remove barriers to employment and housing.
“They are able to get a promotion at work,” said Karen Merrill Tjapkes, the director of litigation at Legal Aid of Western Michigan. “To get a job in health care, which is really looking for good employees right now, because they were able to remove that 20-year-old misdemeanor from their record. Folks are just able to get better job opportunities that allow them to provide for their families better.”
Some sentences already include automatic expungement. Since 2021, people have been able to fill out applications to have their record cleared, but a backlog forced them to wait several months or even longer before it happened.
“We’re really excited about this because it is a little bit difficult to petition for an expungement,” Tjapkes said. “You’ve got to get fingerprinted. There’s expenses. You have to go to court. There’s a lot of work that goes into that and a lot of people don’t have the time, the money, the knowledge to go and do that.”
Michigan State Police, which is leading the new process, came up with a system to automatically clear some convictions. MSP is tasked with letting the courts know each day.
“This means folks who last night went to bed with a criminal conviction are going to wake up tomorrow morning and not have that without having to wait all of those months,” Tjapkes said.
Under the program, up to four misdemeanor convictions that were punishable by 93 days or more are automatically expunged after seven years, while all misdemeanors that were punishable by less than 93 days are automatically expunged after seven years. Up to two felony convictions are automatically expunged after 10 years as long as their records have been clean since. In order to be eligible for the program, people cannot have pending criminal charges.
Though the records are no longer public, they’re not completely gone.
“It doesn’t go away completely because there is going to be maintained a non-public record for government actors to be able to find the record,” Rodenhouse explained.
But the process has created some problems. Public court records, like at the 61st District Court in Grand Rapids, are currently shut down as the system transitions.
“Often times that’s how I find out case information for my clients who have cases pending, find out hearing dates, find out case numbers,” Rodenhouse said. “It’s just not available.”
More serious offenses cannot be wiped from the record. That includes assaultive crimes, serious misdemeanors, crimes of dishonesty and crimes involving a minor, a vulnerable adult, death or human trafficking.
People with convictions for those crimes could still file applications for expungement.
“The courts and the state police can really focus on the crimes that will not be automatically expunged and they can do a good evaluation of those individual petitions and work through those,” Tjapkes said.
Rodenhouse said some of the language describing convictions that cannot be expunged is too vague.
“What exactly do you mean by a crime of dishonesty or a crime of violence?” he said. “What exactly is a crime of violence? Is that disorderly jostling or assault and battery or aggravated assault and battery? Domestic violence? What’s a serious misdemeanor?”
Rodenhouse said the courts will likely have to determine how to define them.
“There’s going to be litigation,” Rodenhouse said. “It’s just the nature of this stuff.”
Still, he emphasized that overall, the changes will do a lot of good.
“Individuals who have the one bad night or go through the bad period in their life, they don’t get defined by those crimes forever,” he said.
Tjapkes said it would make a big difference.
“If we can remove those barriers for folks that have done their sentences, paid their restitution, haven’t committed additional offenses, then we can improve their chances of getting good jobs and good housing so they can be a thriving member of our community,” she said.
The state says more than 1 million Michigan residents will see convictions automatically expunged under the program, while around 400,000 will now have no convictions on their records.
For more information on the automatic expungement program’s requirements, go to michigan.gov. To check your public record, go to the Internet Criminal History Access Tool page on michigan.gov. There is a $10 fee.