LANSING, Mich. — A package of bills going into effect Sunday will make it easier for close to a million Michiganders to clear their records of past criminal offenses.
“This isn’t about giving people a free pass or giving people mercy," said John Cooper, the executive director at Safe & Just Michigan. "This is giving people a fair second chance after they’ve already been punished for getting in trouble.”
With certain exceptions, the laws will make it possible for individuals to expunge up to three felonies, unlimited misdemeanors, most traffic offenses and marijuana convictions. Drunk driving convictions aren't eligible.
Sarah Munro, a pro bono manager at Michigan Advocacy Program, says legal aid organizations like hers are preparing for an influx of people looking to begin the expungement process.
“We have clients who really have major barriers because of the records from something very remote in their past,” said Munro.
The struggle for a fresh start is something one very well-known Michigan man understands all too well.
“I don't think some people realize how important that is to some people that have made mistakes in their lives and some of us made them as children,” said Rick Wershe Jr. who's better known as 'White Boy Rick.'
At just 17, he was hit with what was arguably one of the most controversial sentences in Michigan’s history and spent more than 30 years behind bars for a non-violent drug crime.
“I couldn’t imagine the day I could get my record expunged," said Wershe. "I’m free now, but am I really free? You’re not really ever free until you get that fresh start and you have that clean slate.”
The second phase of the reform will allow automatic removal of up to four misdemeanors after seven years and two non-violent felonies after 10 as long as no new convictions happen during that time frame.
Wershe says the new laws are a step in the right direction.
“What it tells me is that our lawmakers are finally waking up and saying ‘people deserve a second chance,’" he said. "I don’t know that I qualify and if I don’t I’m happy for the ones that it does apply to.”
Safe and just Michigan is holding a webinar Monday to help people navigate the new expungement laws. Information on how to register for the webinar can be found here.
The Michigan Advocacy Program is also offering free legal assistance to people seeking help with their cases. Clients can complete an online form to be connected with an attorney or call the Counsel and Advocacy Law hotline at 1-888-783-8190.
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