Michigan’s Many Criminal Justice Policy Victories in 2020

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Posted by Sheridan Nolen on Wednesday, March 31st, 2021, 12:38 PM PERMALINK

Last year was not a great year, but one silver lining for Michigan is the passage of drastic improvements to the state criminal justice system, under the leadership of Republicans in both chambers.  

Rising jail populations are a clear sign of a system that is not delivering the public safety, justice, and efficiency that people deserve. In 2017, it was estimated that taxpayers in Michigan spent nearly $478 million on county jails. On top of these high costs being unaffordable for taxpayers, they are a warning sign that too many people are being jailed, often for bad reasons.  

Thankfully, lawmakers in Michigan took major steps in 2020 to safely reduce the state’s growing jail population. Fewer people who pose little risk to public safety will go to jail, and if they do it will be for a shorter period of time. For example, driver’s license suspension as a penalty to try and force people to pay court debt was eliminated for offenses unrelated to road safety. This counterproductive practice can push people desperate to get to work to drive without a license, a serious offense.  

Additionally, Michigan enacted Clean Slate policies that will take effect in April 2021. These seven bills – House Bills 4980-4985 and 5120 – would automatically expunge low-level, and nonviolent offenses from the records of hundreds of thousands of Michiganders who have lived crime free for at least seven years. Data show that after five years without reoffending, the recidivism rate is extremely low. Yet, these, now law-abiding people could still face issues finding housing or work because of their record.  

Also, it will be easier for people leaving the system to find work, as unnecessary barriers to obtaining an occupational license were removed. Having a decent job reduces the likelihood someone will reoffend, and it boosts the economy.  

Michiganders should be excited about strong, conservative criminal justice reform bills becoming law. Michigan is reducing the costs of the system and saving taxpayer dollars, while improving public safety.  

HB 4980: Creates an automated process to expunge eligible misdemeanors after seven years and eligible non-assaultive felonies after 10 years.  

HB 4981: Makes convictions for traffic offenses — which constitute half of all criminal cases in Michigan — are eligible for expungement.  

HB 4982: Creates a process to set aside most marijuana convictions that would have been legal as of Dec. 6, 2018, the date recreational marijuana was legalized in Michigan.  

HB 4983: Reduces waiting periods to file expungement petitions of a misdemeanor conviction to three years.  

HB 4984: Increases the number of misdemeanors and felonies a person can expunge to an unlimited number of non-assaultive misdemeanors and three felonies. A person cannot have more than two assaultive felonies expunged in a lifetime or have multiple convictions of the same crime expunged if the maximum sentence for that crime is 10 or more years of incarceration. 

HB 4985: Allows multiple convictions for certain offenses arising on “one bad night” to be eligible for expungement as a single offense.  

HB 5120: Creates a rebuttal process for marijuana expungements specifying that prosecutors bear the burden of proof.  

In addition to enacting clean slate bills for adults, bills that would ensure a fresh start for youth exiting the juvenile justice system – Senate Bills 681 and 682 – were also enacted last year.  

SB 681: Allows for expungement of traffic offenses for juveniles and automatic expungement for certain offenses committed by juvenile.  

SB 682: Makes juvenile court records nonpublic beginning January 1, 2021. It also expands the categories of people deemed to have a “legitimate interest” and therefore eligible to see closed court hearings and nonpublic documents. 

House Bills 4488-4492 and Senate Bill 293, the Good Moral Character Package, were also signed into law in December. These bills reform occupational licensing to expand opportunities for Michiganders who have maintained “good moral character” post-convection or post-judgement.  

HB 4488: Limits the situations in which a licensing board may consider criminal convictions and civil actions in determining an applicant’s good moral character.  

HB 4489: Clarifies that the adjustments made in HB 4488 do not apply to determining “good moral character” for admission to the State Bar of Michigan and that for those purposes, good moral character would be determined by the Board of Law examiners.  

HBs 4490-92: Revise the definition of “good moral character” within specific acts to align with the changes in HB 4488.  

SB 293: Amends the Occupational Code to require the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) to report annually to the legislature regarding applications for occupational licenses that were denied because of an applicant’s lack of good moral character.  

Lastly, several bills were enacted that eliminate driver’s license suspensions and criminal penalties for some traffic offenses; expand officer discretion to use appearance tickets instead of custodial arrests; use probation, fines, and community service as sentences for low-level crimes; and limit jail time for those who violate the rules of supervision. 

HB 5846, HB 5847, HB 5849, HB 5850, HB 5851, HB 5852, HB 6235, and HCR 29: Eliminates license suspension for violations of the law unrelated to dangerous driving. 

HB 5853: Reclassifies many traffic misdemeanors as civil infractions. 

HB 5844 and HB 5854-5857: Eliminates mandatory minimum jail sentences in the Motor Vehicle Code, School Code, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, Railroad Code, and Public Health Code. 

SB 1046: Expands law enforcement discretion to issue citations for most misdemeanors and presumes citation in lieu of arrest in many cases. 

SB 1047: Ensures summonses are used for most first-time failures to appear and allows defendants to resolve low-level warrants without being arrested. 

SB 1048: Creates a presumption of a sentence other than jail for most misdemeanors and certain felonies. 

SB 1049: Expands eligibility for deferred judgment of guilt to 24- and 25-year-olds under the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act. 

SB 1050: Reduces probation terms, tailors probation conditions to address risks and needs, and caps jail sanctions for technical probation violations. 

SB 1051: Tailors parole conditions to address risks and needs. 

Other notable criminal justice reforms enacted last year include:  

SB 1006: Amends the Social Welfare Act to allow individuals who committed a drug-related offense, or have outstanding warrants for such offenses, to access the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other food assistance. 

SB 700: Requires the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act limit the use of secure juvenile detention facilities for status offender. The bill also adjusts the list of offenses for which a juvenile may be detained pending a hearing, removing the status offense of running away from home and adding the violation of a court order.  

SB 893: Amends the Youth Rehabilitation Services Act to change citations to the law to reflect changes in SB 700.  

SB 894: Amends the Juvenile Boot Camp Act to change citations to the law to reflect changes in SB 700.  

These bills are tremendous victories for Michigan, and yet there are still opportunities for lawmakers in Michigan to continue improving their criminal justice system this year. 

Photo Credit: Allie Osmar Siarto

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