Criminal justice leaders support expanding expungement reform


LANSING, Mich. (WJMN) – Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield, Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack and Attorney General Dana Nessel came together Wednesday to support expanding recent criminal justice reforms to include offering clear records to those convicted of first-time OWI, or ‘operating while intoxicated,’ offenses. House Bills 5029 and 6453 builds on the recent expungement changes signed into law in October by making low-level OWI offenders eligible for a clean slate on their criminal record.

“Everyone knows someone who has struggled with alcohol dependency, and anyone who has supported a friend or family member who has step-by-step reclaimed their lives is keenly aware that they have done the hard work to earn a second chance,” said McCormack. “In addition, a one-time mistake shouldn’t mean a lifetime of punishment. This is simply the right thing to do.”

The reform passed earlier this year – including House Bills 4980-85 and 5120 – expanded eligibility for expungement and made it easier for people to clean their slate instead of forcing residents to navigate a complicated and often unsuccessful appeals process. OWI offenses were not included in the original bills and would be added under this new legislation.

“Our judicial system establishes penalties and sentences for breaking the law. However, for some violations, such as a first OWI offense, a person should not have to face a lifetime of obstacles if they have served their sentence,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said. “These one-time mistakes can have lasting impacts on career opportunities, educational possibilities and one’s overall quality of life. With certain exceptions, such as repeat offenders or those who have seriously injured or killed others during the course of their crime, this legislation will provide those who made a mistake and learned from it with an opportunity to put that lapse in judgment behind them and move on with their lives.”

Speaker Chatfield in 2019 invited the Pew Charitable Trusts to help administer a task force on potential criminal justice reforms and specifically ways to keep people out of local jails. Attorney General Nessel later served on that task force, and Chief Justice McCormack served as its co-chair.

The task force worked throughout the year to investigate potential areas of reform, listen to testimony from experts around the state, and draft recommendations for legislative action. They delivered their findings and proposals in early 2020, and many of those ideas have since been turned into legislation and later state law.

“This is the right thing to do for people who have made a one-time mistake and earnestly want to move past it,” said Chatfield. “But this is also the right thing to do for their family, friends and neighbors who benefit from having people back on the job and parents able to drive their kids to school all around the state. Helping people get their lives back on track works far better for all of us than pushing them further into difficult circumstances and hopelessness.

“We have made a lot of progress this term moving criminal justice policy toward smarter, forward-thinking policies that provide better outcomes. But there is no such thing as good enough. That is why the Michigan Legislature will continue to make improving our state’s criminal justice system a top priority.”

House Bills 5029 and 6453 passed out of the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday morning and will receive a vote later Wednesday afternoon before moving to the Senate for consideration.

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