Flint, MI—Around 1,000 Genesee County residents had the chance to drop previous criminal charges from their record during an expungement fair in Flint on Wednesday.
The fair was the first of several planned for across the state after Michigan’s “Clean Slate” laws took effect beginning April 11, providing a process to expunge misdemeanor marijuana offenses that are no longer crimes after Michigan voters approved a ballot proposal legalizing marijuana in 2018.
Under the new laws, individuals can expunge an unlimited number of misdemeanors, with some exceptions, and can expunge up to three felonies, other than some serious felonies and life offenses.
The event was attended by several state and local leaders, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II, Attorney General Dana Nessel, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson, Mayor Sheldon Neeley and Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton.
Whitmer said the expungements are “about second chances,” adding that people who have their records expunged may be able to find increased opportunities.
“Whether it’s for employment or it’s in housing, they will help ensure a clean slate for hundreds of thousands of Michiganders so you can get into a good-paying job, take care of your family and get ahead in this great state that we all call home,” Whitmer said.
Gilchrist said that the new laws will have a tangible positive impact on the lives of the individuals having their records expunged.
“People find it hard to believe that change is coming when you can’t see it or can’t feel it. I see it and I feel it today. The almost 1,000 people served will see it and feel it today here in Genesee County. These laws will have an immediate and immense positive effect on life across the state of Michigan,” Gilchrist said. “The changes are not theoretical. Their impact is real; just as real as the negative impact of the flawed system that we are here to fix.”
Kildee said the expungements will also have a positive impact on their communities as a whole.
“While this is important to the people who will benefit from this expungement fair and have their records cleared, it’s important to all of us,” Kildee said. “We measure the goodness of society by how we interact with one another, live with one another and benefit from one another. We are better people, every one of us, because of what is happening today.”
Kildee said the expungement opportunities are part of delivering justice.
“Justice comes in many forms. It comes in the form of holding people accountable, for sure, for the mistakes they may have made in their lives,” Kildee said. “But it also comes in the form of ultimately making it right. And one of the ways we make it right is to give people the chance to move on.”
Flint resident Aaron Stinson said the expungement fair provided an opportunity for him to move forward with his life and have his record reflect the person he currently is, rather than he person he was in 1997.
“In the past, when I was younger, I made some mistakes hanging with the wrong crowd. Now that I’m older, I understand that those mistakes couldn’t be rectified; once it’s done, it’s done,” Stinson said. “I’m not the same person I was then, but when that record comes up, it makes me out to be that same person. If I can get that taken off, clear my name, it would make me feel a lot better. That’s not who I am, but if it’s on paper, they’re going to hold that to me and make me that person.”
“This is called my justice. Justice in reverse.”
Gilchrist said additional criminal justice reforms are needed and noted that the administration’s budget proposal includes $21 million to implement a portion of the new laws that will make expungements for certain offenses automatic.
“Our administration’s belief is that, first of all, we’ve got to reduce people’s contact with the system in the first place. But then after that, we need to make sure that when you do come into contact, that you’re treated with dignity, humanity and respect, that our victims and survivors are supported and invested in. And that, finally, when you are through with this system, that you are positioned to be successful,” Gilchrist said.
Gilchrist said the number of officials attending the event Wednesday demonstrate they are committed to tackling the issues.
“Our presence here today, alongside the presence of every statewide constitutional officer in Michigan, is a demonstration of our collective commitment to these values and to making these fundamental reforms accessible to members of every community in our state,” Gilchrist said.
Residents who attended the expungement fair were also able to get their COVID-19 vaccine and register to vote.
“Whether you’re here to get your record cleared, whether you’re here to get a vaccination – and I hope you’ll avail yourself of that opportunity if you haven’t already – or whether you’re here to register to vote, we want to bring the people back into government,” Nessel said. “We want to have a government that actually works for you.”
The expungement fair also featured bounce houses, a dunk tank, and refreshments like potato chips and cotton candy.
“When we talked about kicking off the first of our statewide expungement fairs here in Genesee and you said you wanted to go first and that you would put the fair in expungement fair, you weren’t kidding,” Nessel told Swanson.