Michigan’s Clean Slate Legislation FAQs

Q: What is an expungement or “set-aside” under Michigan law?

    A: Michigan law (as of January 2021) permits a person with no more than one felony or two misdemeanor convictions on their record to petition a court to remove their conviction(s) from the public record. This process is generally referred to as an expungement, or sometimes as “record-sealing” or a “set-aside.” In Michigan, law enforcement retains a non-public record of the conviction; in some other states, “expungement” means all records of the conviction are destroyed.

Q: What does the new “Clean Slate” law do?

    A: The new law expands eligibility to petition for an expungement in several ways, and creates a new process that will automatically seal certain non-violent conviction records if a person has remained conviction-free for a period of time (seven years for misdemeanors; 10 years for felonies).

Q: When will the new law become effective?

    A: There are different answers for the bills related to the petition process and the automatic expungement. Expanded eligibility to petition (H.B. 4981-85 & 5120): These bills become effective 180 days from the day they are signed by the governor. Because they were signed on October 12, 2020, the expected effective date of these bills is April 11, 2021. Automatic Expungement (H.B. 4980): This bill has a two-year implementation period. That means the earliest it will become effective is December 30, 2022

Q: What if I don’t want to wait until the automatic expungement is effective?

    A: You may be eligible to apply for expungement under current law. If it has been five years since the end of your sentence and community supervision, and you have no more than one felony and two misdemeanors on your record, you are eligible to apply to seal most kinds of convictions

Q: In what ways does the new law expand eligibility to petition for expungement?

    A: Current law permits a person to apply to seal a conviction if it has been five years since the end of the related sentence and community supervision, and the applicant has no more than one felony and two misdemeanors on your record. The new bills expand eligibility in the following ways: 1. It expands eligibility to up to three felony convictions and an unlimited number of misdemeanors. However, no more than two assaultive convictions can be set aside, and multiple convictions for the same crime are ineligible if they have a maximum penalty of more than 10 years in prison. 2. It counts multiple convictions that arise out of the same event as one for purposes of the new conviction limits, if the convictions: (a) were not assaultive, (b) did not involve use of a dangerous weapon, and (c) are not punishable by more than 10 years in prison. 3. It reduces the waiting period to three years for misdemeanors, and permits applications for multiple felonies after seven years. 4. It makes most traffic offenses — which are 50 percent of all criminal cases in Michigan — eligible for the first time. DWIs or traffic offenses causing injury or death are excluded. 5. It creates a special process for people with marijuana convictions to apply for expungement if the conduct at issue would be legal under current law.

Q: How do I apply for expungement if I am eligible?

Q: If I am not eligible until the new law becomes effective on April 10, 2021, should I wait until then to apply?

    A: Yes — filing sooner risks having your application denied, which would make you ineligible to apply again for three years.

Q: Wait, if my application is denied, I’m not allowed to reapply for three years?

    A: Yes — this is in the current statute. This consequence makes it important for applicants to compile and file the petition with close attention to all the statutory requirements.

Q: Are some convictions ineligible for expungement?

    A: Yes. Sex offenses, offenses punishable by a maximum of life in prison, second offense domestic violence and human trafficking offenses are all ineligible to be sealed. In addition, traffic offenses will not be eligible until the new law goes into effect in April 2021, and drunk driving (any kind) and moving violations causing injury or death are not eligible for expungement under the new law.

Q: How can I determine whether I am eligible for the automatic expungement?

    A: The automatic expungement applies to up to two non-violent felony convictions and four misdemeanors (“serious misdemeanor” convictions are not eligible). Certain financial crimes, defined by the bill as “crimes of dishonesty,” are also ineligible.

Q: How many people will be helped by the new Clean Slate law?

    A: Estimates for the automatic expungement range from 400,000 people helped to more than 1 million people who will have their criminal records automatically sealed. Similar numbers of people will be newly eligible to petition as a result of the new law.

Q: What are some of the reasons the new law will have such a large impact?

    A: There are several reasons: 1. The existing expungement process has never served a large number of people — uptake is estimated at 6.5 percent of eligible people, which translates to 2,000 to 3,000 people annually — even though hundreds of thousands are eligible to apply. 2. Traffic offenses are half of all criminal cases in Michigan, and no traffic offenses were eligible for expungement before this law was signed. 3. The new law makes all misdemeanors for marijuana possession and use that would not be illegal under current law eligible for expungement (irrespective of when the conviction occurred or what other convictions the person has on their record). This impacts an estimated 240,000 people. 4. The law expands eligibility to many people who were not previously eligible. Before this law passed, most people with records were not eligible to apply because they had more than one felony or two misdemeanors on their record.

Q: I have heard people say this bill package makes Michigan a national leader in criminal record-sealing policy. In what ways is that true?

    A: This is true in multiple ways: 1. Michigan is the first state in the nation to pass a retroactive automatic expungement that makes many felonies eligible for automatic expungement. 2. Eligibility for the automatic expungement is not conditional on whether the applicant has unpaid criminal justice debt. However, there is a provision that permits the expungement to be rescinded if the person does not make a good faith effort to pay restitution. 3. The expansions to eligibility for the petition process also position Michigan as a national leader in criminal record sealing policy.

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