On October 12, 2020, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a series of bills that drastically affect the state’s “set-aside” authority, informally known as “expungement.” The bills will establish a new automatic mechanism to expunge certain convictions without a person having to ask for it. They also significantly expand eligibility for expungement under the existing petition-based application system.
Governor Whitmer announced, “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.”
She also added, “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.”
In responding to the bills, Republican House Speaker Lee Chatfield said, “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.”
He argued further, “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.”
A huge shift for Michiganders
Hundreds of thousands of Michiganders are estimated to be eligible for expungement under these new bills. Relief will be delivered automatically to a significant percentage of them when the automatic feature is expected to become operative in October 2022, pending necessary appropriation and a potential 180-day extension.
This legislative package makes Michigan the sixth state to enact an automatic conviction-sealing law covering a range of offenses. It also makes Michigan the third state to make relief automatic for some felony convictions, joining New Jersey and California.
Under pre-existing Michigan law, eligibility for expungement was quite restrictive. One of the bills in Michigan’s newly expanded legislative package expands discretionary petition-based relief to an unlimited number of less serious misdemeanors and up to three felonies, giving Michigan one of the broadest expungement laws in the country.
Major changes aheadMichigan Updates Laws on Sealing of Convictions
The most significant bill in the package, HB4980, establishes an automatic mechanism to expunge convictions, meaning that relief would be granted without a person having to file any petition at all or even indicating that they wanted it. However, a broad range of crimes involving violence or dishonesty, or subject to a lengthy sentence, are ineligible for automatic relief. In the case of more serious misdemeanors and felonies, a person with more than one conviction for an assaultive crime (broadly defined) is ineligible for relief.
The remaining six bills reorganize Michigan law concerning petition-based relief, for the most part expanding eligibility for set-aside for an unlimited number of non-assaultive misdemeanors and up to three felonies.
Michigan’s bill would require its automatic relief system to be made operational two years after the effective date of the law.