by Scott McClallen
Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed two bills into law allowing for the expungement of some first-time drunk driving convictions, which could give 200,000 Michiganders a second chance at an otherwise black mark on their records.
Lawmakers gave bipartisan support with a 92-16 vote for House Bills 4219 and 4220, which aim to allow the expungement of first-time operating while intoxicated (OWI) and driving under the influence (DUI) convictions in which no one was injured.
“No one should be defined by a mistake they have made in the past,” Whitmer said in a statement. “These bills allow Michiganders to move on from a past mistake in order to have a clean slate. We must clear a path for first-time offenders so that all residents are able to compete for jobs with a clean record and contribute to their communities in a positive way.”
The bills give those with OWI convictions the option to seek expungement of their first offense five years after probation ends. Applicants must petition the court, and a judge will make the final decision. Law enforcement will still have a non-public copy of the record.
Whitmer previously pocket-vetoed similar bipartisan legislation without a stated reason, angering activists who pointed to a double standard for Whitmer enacting into law the chance for some felonies to be expunged but not first-time DUI and OWI misdemeanors.
Activists welcomed the new law.
“Safe & Just Michigan thanks Gov. Whitmer for signing these popular, bipartisan bills, which represent a long-awaited chance for a fresh start for tens of thousands of Michiganders whose opportunities have been limited by a single old DUI conviction,” Safe & Just Michigan Executive Director John S. Cooper said in a statement. “Drunk driving is a serious problem in Michigan, but permanently limiting a person’s ability to work and drive based on a one-time, decades-old mistake does not make sense. People who can show that their DUI conviction was a one-time mistake should have an opportunity to make a fresh start.”
Together, the bills allow for the criminal record expungement of first-time offenses for:
- Any person operating a vehicle with a BAC of .08 or more
- Any person operating a vehicle while visibly impaired by alcohol or other controlled substance
- A person under 21 years old operating a vehicle with a BAC of .02 or more
- Any person from operating a vehicle with any bodily amount of cocaine or a Schedule 1 controlled substance
“We are honored to work alongside many coalition partners to shed light on the needlessly harsh and racially-biased criminal legal system that especially impacts youth, Black people and communities of color,” ACLU of Michigan Political Director Shelli Weisberg said in a statement. “The expungement law is another step forward in transforming our criminal legal system so that people have the opportunity to be restored and can contribute to their communities. We urge lawmakers to continue on this path of reform until the work is done.”
“Michigan is the only state in the country not to have a firm .08 Blood Alcohol Concentration limit for operating a motor vehicle,” Rep. Graham Filler, R-DeWitt, one of the bill sponsors, said in a statement. “Eliminating the sunset is not only the right thing to do, but it ensures the safety of those traveling on our roads.”
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Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.
Photo “Governor Gretchen Whitmer” by Julia Pickett. CC BY-SA 4.0. Background Photo “Michigan State Capitol” by Subterranean. CC BY-SA 3.0.