April 2023 Report from Safe & Just

Clean Slate, legislative reform, and more.
The past month has been monumental for criminal justice reform advocates in Michigan. Not only have we begun to automatically expunge both misdemeanors and felonies, but we have also seen legislative action toward ending juvenile life without parole, instituting a Second Look policy, creating a sentencing commission and providing people with a state-issued ID card when they come home from prison.

Automatic Expungement is Already Changing Lives

Clean Slate was signed into law, but it took until April 11, 2023, for the automatic expungement portion of the law to go into effect. On that day, the state automatically erased nearly 850,000 old records from public view. That meant that about 250,000 people saw their criminal records completely cleared. And these numbers will only continue to grow as more people qualify for automatic expungement each day.

Under Michigan’s Clean Slate laws, up to two nonviolent felonies can be automatically expunged 10 years after the completion of a sentence and four misdemeanors can be automatically expunged seven years after the end of a sentence. The petition process still exists and allows for more kinds of offenses and a greater number of them to be expunged. A total of three felonies — up to two of them violent — and an unlimited number of misdemeanors punishable by less than 93 days in jail can be expunged through the petition process. The waiting time for the petition process is as follows: three years for simple misdemeanors; five years for serious misdemeanors; five years for a first nonviolent felony; seven years for a second and third nonviolent felonies; five years for a first assaultive felony or felony carrying a potential sentence of 10+ years; and seven years for the second and third violent felonies or felonies carrying a possible 10+ year sentence. 

It is important to note that the state is not notifying people when their records are cleared. In the future, we hope there will be an online portal where people can verify their identity and check the status of their record. Until then, the best way to check is to obtain an ICHAT record from the state police, which costs $10. 

Safe & Just Michigan will continue to work with our partners around the state to host expungement fairs where people can get free and low-cost petition expungement help. 

We are so thankful for the hard work of everyone who helped make Clean Slate and automatic expungement a reality. They include Clean Slate Initiative, JLUSA, Nation Outside, ACLU of Michigan, Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Fresh Coast Alliance, the Alliance for Safety & Justice, Crime Survivors for Safety & Justice, A.R.R.O., the Detroit Justice Center, Michigan Faith in Action, the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness, Still Standing Against Domestic Violence, the Detroit Regional Chamber, Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, Small Business Association of Michigan, American Conservative Union, R Street Institute, Reason Foundation, Americans for Prosperity, the Center for American Progress, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the Crime and Justice Institute, and Code for America.

Plan to End Juvenile Life Gets Hearing

On April 20, the Senate Civil Rights, Judiciary and Public Safety Committee held a hearing on Senate Bills 119-123, which would end the possibility of sentencing a child to life without parole. A similar set of bills, House Bills 4160-4164, are still awaiting their first hearing.

The bills are grounded in existing state and federal Supreme Court rulings that have found that mandatory juvenile life without parole is unconstitutional because — in the words of the Michigan Supreme Court — it is a “cruel or unusual” punishment. The bills also remove discretionary juvenile life without parole from consideration, recognizing that adolescent brains are still developing and incapable of the same kind of decision-making as adults. 

The hearing featured testimony from former juvenile lifers such as Ronnie Waters, now Safe & Just Michigan’s community engagement specialist, and Jose Burgos, a reentry specialist at SADO, as well as former judges, attorneys who have represented juveniles sentenced to life without parole, and more. 

One of the people offering testimony, Felecia Tyson-Waters, noted that Michigan was the first English-speaking territory to ban the death penalty, yet our state now leads the world in sentencing children to die in prison. The United States is the only country in the world to hand such stark sentences to children, and among US states, Michigan has the most people serving a juvenile life without parole sentence, according to the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth.

We anticipate that there will be a hearing on the House version of these bills in May, and we will be tracking the progress of bills to end juvenile life without parole as they move through the Legislature. We will keep you posted.

Proposal to Create a Second Look Policy Introduced

On April 19, criminal justice reform advocates gathered at the Michigan State Capitol steps to rally for new legislation being introduced to create a Second Look policy for people who are incarcerated. Under the proposal, sponsored by Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), people who have been incarcerated for 10 years would have the right to request their sentence be reviewed. That would give people an opportunity to argue that the original sentence wasn’t appropriate, or that the person is no longer a threat to the community.

During a Second Look petition, a judge could weigh factors such as whether a person had been a victim of domestic violence acting in self-defense, for instance, or take a person’s age at the time of a crime into consideration. Other times, a sentence may no longer match society’s values, such as a long sentence for marijuana possession, now that marijuana is legal for recreational use. If an original sentence is found to be inappropriate, the judge could adjust a sentence to time served, reduce the sentence by at least 20 percent or to no more than five years after their sentence reduction was approved, or deny the petition.

Under the proposal, people who have been convicted of a mass shooting, domestic violence, criminal sexual conduct against a child under the age of 13, child pornography or human trafficking would not be eligible for a second look.

Safe & Just Michigan supports the establishment of a Second Look policy. Michigan already has the longest average prison sentences in the nation, and policies like these would address that problem. No hearings on the plan have yet been scheduled, but we will keep you informed.

Hearing Held on Creating a Sentencing Commission

Last year, Safe & Just Michigan issued a landmark research publication titled, Do Michigan’s Sentencing Guidelines Meet the Legislature’s Goals? A Historical and Empirical Analysis of Prison Terms for Life-Maximum Offenses. This 200-plus page report used data and scientific analysis to show how the existence of sentencing disparities across the state. One of the best ways to address the problem, the report concluded, would be for Michigan to establish the same sort of sentencing commission that already exists in many other states.

A bill before the Legislature, House Bill 4173, would do exactly that. It had a hearing before the House Criminal Justice Committee on April 11. No committee vote has yet been taken, but we will keep you up-to-date on this legislation.

Progress on State-Issued IDs

Finally, a set of bills that would ensure people leave prison with a state-issued ID in hand has cleared the House Criminal Justice Committee. House Bills 4191-4194 would address the problem of people coming home from prison without a driver’s license, birth certificate or any other form of formal ID. 

During the meeting, Safe & Just Michigan Director of Outreach and Community Partnerships Ken Nixon shared his struggle to open a bank account when he came home from prison. Newly exonerated, Ken had received checks from people and organizations who wanted to help him get back on his feet. But without a driver’s license, he couldn’t open up a bank account to cash them. To get a driver’s license, he needed a birth certificate, which he also didn’t have. To get that, he needed a social security card — which he also lacked. It took six months to sort through the confusion. He told the committee that he faced the surreal problem of proving to the state that he was the same individual that they had kept incarcerated for more than 15 years.

Hopefully, these bills will soon become law and no one else will face this problem again. We will let you know when that happens.

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