Removing a criminal conviction in Michigan has received a lot of press lately. Not that long ago there was expungement week, a national campaign that provided free legal clinics across the country, and with marijuana legalization in Michigan, legislators are eager to remove moot marijuana convictions from the past. The media quotes a University of Michigan study that found that only 6.5% percent of eligible people expunge their criminal record within five years of becoming eligible to do so. Instead, most people just live with the collateral consequences associated with a criminal conviction. The impact of a conviction usually manifests after time. In my experience, when people reach their mid-twenties, they start to feel the sting. I have had clients tell me when they submit a rental application at a high-end complex, they get denied and lose their application fee. My clients tell me how they take jobs, then quickly lose them when their criminal record is discovered by their employer. Similarly, job interviews are cut short once a criminal conviction is disclosed. If the conviction is related to a controlled substance, drug crime, then eligibility for federal student loans is impacted. Some of my expungement clients must sit before admission boards at colleges. Many people seeking a career in a health profession are devastated when they learn of the problems associated with a conviction. Professional licensing, in general, takes a keen interest in criminal convictions, particularly when assessing the moral character of a person seeking entry into a profession. With all of these collateral consequences from a criminal conviction, why would only 6.5% of people eligible to remove a criminal conviction take advantage of the expungement statute? I decided to write this article to dispel one of the myths championed by the media, the criminal conviction expungement process in Michigan is too complicated and expensive.
The process to remove a criminal conviction for my clients
From my client’s perspective, the process to remove a criminal conviction is not overly cumbersome. I interview the petitioner, which takes about an hour. I ask my clients to pull their criminal history from the Michigan State Police website: click here. The record costs $10.00 Dollars. A person with one felony conviction and two misdemeanor convictions are eligible to remove a criminal conviction from their criminal history after five years. This threshold applies to out of state convictions and delayed or deferred sentences count as a misdemeanor. I request my client obtain letters from character witnesses. My client then has to obtain a fingerprint card from a police department, which costs about $15.00. Once I obtain the letters, I write a memorandum of law/brief for the application/petition. Next, I file the application and memorandum of law, serve the prosecutor, police and attorney general. In about 90 days, there is a hearing before the sentencing Judge. The length of this hearing varies depending on the Judge. From my perspective, the entire process takes about 4 to 7 hours to complete, about $1200.00 in legal fees on the high end, under a $1000.00 for some clients. Many people complete an expungement without an attorney. It would take someone without any legal training a lot of time to sort through MCL 780.621, but it is not impossible. Anyone contemplating representing themselves should take a look at the statute, MCL 780.621, available here. I estimate it will take a none lawyer at least an hour to interpret the statute, and determine if they are eligible to remove their criminal conviction.
Removing a criminal record will pay for itself
In March of 2019, The University Of Michigan published a study, “Expungement of Criminal Convictions: An Empirical Study by J.J. Prescott and Sonja B. Starr,” available here. This study reported a sharp upturn in wages and employment trajectories for people after a criminal record expungement. But what about the people already working? The study also discussed something that most people already sense or know—employers and companies avoid people with criminal records. Furthermore, searching for employee or prospective employee criminal records is easier than ever, thanks to the world wide web. Nearly 85% of employers run criminal history checks on their employees. The conviction may prevent advancement within a company. One of my clients told me that his company has a no-hire policy for felons, but everyone in his department adored him and kept his secret. However, he was afraid to seek promotions outside of his department due to the risk of exposing his criminal history. Removing a conviction opens doors previously closed to many people and the reality is that increased earnings in the future will likely pay for the expense necessary for legal counsel.
Changes in the Law
There are many pending bills in the Michigan Legislature to amend the expungement process. These changes range from automatic expungement for a felony conviction after ten crime-free years; to allowing unlimited misdemeanor convictions to be expunged; to allowing marijuana convictions to be expunged if the criminal conduct back then would be legal today, after the legalization of recreational marijuana. Soon, criminal record expungement will likely become even more available to people living with the mistakes of their past.
About the author
Matthew Benedict is an attorney practicing law in all of Northern Michigan. Call today for an appointment at 231-883-4170. Read my remove a criminal conviction blog here. Read my client reviews here. Thanks for reading my blog.