Midland County offers a “Clean Slate” to previous offenders

Being able to expunge, or set aside, a criminal conviction can be a life-changing opportunity for past offenders who have turned their lives around. New laws recently put into effect in the State of Michigan are making the process easier and more accessible  — and eventually, automatic.

Jerry Ladwig, the attorney magistrate and deputy court administrator for the 75th District Court, handles the expungement applications received for Midland County.

“Essentially, expunging your record [in Michigan] means that if you have a past criminal conviction, whether it be a misdemeanor or felony, that it can be removed from your public record,” says Ladwig.

The public record is a file that can be accessed by employers, landlords, or other members of the general public through a background check. There is another file called the private record that is only accessible by law enforcement and the courts, it will still contain the previous conviction.

A person can have up to three felony and unlimited misdemeanor offenses expunged, but there are limitations for what crimes qualify for expungement.“A person can have up to three felony and unlimited misdemeanor offenses expunged, subject to the following limitations: no more than two assaultive crimes, felony or misdemeanor, in their lifetime, and only one felony conviction from the same offense can be set aside if it is punishable by more than 10 years in prison,” says Ladwig. “And that’s from the statute itself.”

Some convictions that still cannot be expunged are driving under the influence; traffic convictions while operating a commercial driver’s license and traffic convictions involving injury or death.

“Drunk driving will be expungeable in the future; that’s in February of 2022,” says Ladwig. 

Being able to expunge, or set aside, a criminal conviction can be a life-changing opportunity for past offenders who have turned their lives around.Automatic expungement will also be implemented sometime “no earlier” than 2023, according to information on the state Attorney General’s web page about the expungement law.

According to Ladwig, after a person applies, the process for the expungement is moved through in about three months. The paperwork and process do not need an attorney but can benefit from one.

“If you file for an [expungement] you’re responsible for serving all of the parties that need to be notified,” says Ladwig. “There are forms that they fill out, and the instructions are on there.”

The State of Michigan’s Attorney General webpage about the expungement law has a checklist that gives step-by-step instructions on completing the process.

“If it’s nothing complicated and you have, say, one conviction on your background, you could certainly do it yourself,” says Ladwig. “But like [with] anything else, sometimes it’s useful to have an expert.”

Expungement leads to better employment opportunities

Robert Worsley, executive director of Midland Community Former Offenders Advocacy & Rehabilitation, works with clients who could use the expungement expansion laws to get ahead.

“We work with former offenders in the community, whether they have misdemeanors or multiple felonies. ... Anyone who has a criminal history, we work with them to eliminate barriers for employment, housing, and opportunities,” says Worsley.

Robert Worsley is the Executive Director of Midland Community Former Offenders Advocacy & Rehabilitation.When someone is convicted of a crime, jailed, and then pushed back out into the world, it can be a challenge getting back on their feet — never mind getting ahead.

“We know that without housing and without employment, [previous offenders] are likely to re-offend,” says Worsley. “So we help with housing and employment first.”

When Worsley found out about the new expansion of the expungement laws, he started doing research.

“I’ve looked into quite a bit of the [Clean Slate] law and how it can positively affect our clients,” says Worsley. “The only thing I would say is that there’s not been a lot of those Clean Slates that have actually happened yet.”

According to Ladwig, there have been seven total applications that he has reviewed since the program started last April.

“There’s a huge difference between being employed and being employed [in a way] that can sustain your life.”“I don’t know if it’s because of a delay in the court system or a delay in the processing like there has been with everything else with COVID,” says Worsley. “But I do see a lot of great benefits for our people from a perspective of employment.”

Worsley said that he was told to send his clients to Michigan Works! for assistance with the expungement process, but when he did they were turned away.

“The recommendation is to go to this local Michigan Works! office to get things initiated,” says Worsley. “Well, we’re finding out that that’s not happening for our clients here in Midland. So then we’re taking steps to help them through pro-bono attorneys.”

Pro-bono attorneys work for free with clients in order to help them deal with legal matters they otherwise could not afford.

“Every offender that we can get those convictions taken out of their criminal history is a huge advantage for them going out into the workplace,” says Worsley. “You know, there’s a huge difference between being employed and being employed [in a way] that can sustain your life.”

For those who have criminal records, there are limited opportunities for finding gainful employment with opportunities to grow. This leads to what Worsley called “survival mode.”

“They’re just getting by, they’re not making big steps in their life, financially or otherwise, because they’re held to the fire because their income is limited,” says Worsley. “We can say they’re employed but they’re truly underemployed.”

Click here for more information on the State of Michigan’s criminal record expungement process

Read more articles by Patrick Sochacki.

Patrick Sochacki, Oscoda native, has lived in Bay City since he was 7 years old. He is a freelance journalist for Catalyst Midland, produces news stories for Delta College Public Radio, and is a freelance podcast producer. He was also editor-in-chief for The Delta Collegiate, Delta College’s student-run newspaper. He can be reached on Twitter @PatrickSochacki.