Tens of thousands of first-time DUI offenders will have a chance to clear their records after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed on Monday two bipartisan bills that allow eligible Michiganders to seek expungement. The governor also signed legislation that keeps Michigan’s legal blood alcohol content (BAC) level for driving at .08, eliminating an October 1 sunset that would have increased the limit to .10.
The bills were adopted last week by the Legislature, and Whitmer indicated she would sign it. The decision comes after, to the surprise of many, the governor allowed similar legislation with wide bipartisan support to die without her signature in January.
“These bills allow Michiganders to move on from a past mistake in order to have a clean slate.” —Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
“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,” Whitmer said Tuesday in a statement.
The legislation gives more guidance to judges to help determine whether offenders have complied with the conditions that would clear the way for an expungement deal. People with DUI convictions can seek expungement of their first offense five years after probation ends. Applicants must submit a petition to the court, and a judge will review and rule on the petition. Incidents that caused death or serious injury to a victim are not eligible.
“A Long-Awaited Chance for a Fresh Start”
Safe & Just Michigan Executive Director John S. Cooper said the legislation is 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.”
“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,” he said.
Shelli Weisberg, ACLU of Michigan political director, said the “needlessly harsh and racially biased criminal system” disproportionately affects communities of color.
“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,” said Weisberg.
The bills allow for the criminal record expungement of first-time offenses for anyone 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; and any person from operating a vehicle with any bodily amount of cocaine or a Schedule 1 controlled substance.
Whitmer also signed bills that will keep the state’s legal limit at .08. Michigan’s BAC legal limit was set to rise to .10 on October 1.
“Michigan is the only state in the country not to have a firm .08 Blood Alcohol Concentration limit for operating a motor vehicle,” said Rep. Graham Filler. “Eliminating the sunset is not only the right thing to do, but it ensures the safety of those traveling on our roads.”