GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A new law in Michigan is giving convicted drunken drivers a chance at a clean slate.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the last bill in a package into law last week, allowing one-time offenders to petition the court for expungement.
“It applies to people who made a bad judgement call on a particular night and who have made the changes that they need to make in order to prevent that from happening again,” criminal defense attorney Sarissa Montague explained.
Under the new law, one-time offenders become eligible for expungement five years later. The case cannot have resulted in serious injury or death. It’s then up to a judge to decide whether the conviction is removed from the person’s records.
“I know this is contrary to me being tough on drunk driving, but I do think that people should get a second chance,” Barry County District Court Judge Mike Schipper said. “I’m in favor of it, particularly because it’s discretionary. If this were mandatory or automatic, I certainly would not be in favor of it.”
Schipper said there are several factors to take into account when ruling on a drunken driving expungement.
“What was the blood alcohol level at the drunk driving? Were there passengers in the vehicle?” he said. “How the person presents themselves at the time they’re requesting the expungement.”
After years of defending clients in drunken driving cases, Montague with Levine & Levine Attorneys at Law in Kalamazoo is excited about the new opportunity that an estimated 200,000 people will become eligible for when the law takes effect in February 2022.
“People are really happy that maybe for the first time they’re going to have the chance of living whatever the rest of their lives is criminal conviction-free,” Montague said.
She said clients are already reaching out about beginning the process after years or even decades of being held back by their past.
“If someone is trying to get a job and they’re competing against a candidate that does not have a conviction on their record, there’s a good chance that the company will go with the one who does not have the conviction instead of the person who does,” she said.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving has reservations about the new law. Victims services specialist Stephanie Hurst with the Grand Rapids chapter said the group approached the governor’s office multiple times, asking for additional requirements to be added.
“We do not support it as written,” Hurst said. “We would like to see them have to prove themselves a little bit more before they’re allowed to have their records expunged.”