LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) introduced a bill today for overdue criminal justice legislation. Senate Bill 1148would allow an individual in Michigan who is exonerated of a criminal conviction to set aside his or her conviction without an application.
According to the National Registry of Exonerations conducted by the University of Michigan Law School, there have been more than 2,670 exonerations nationwide since the organization first started keeping track in 1989. There have been 117 exonerations during this period in Michigan alone. This bill will make it possible for these exonerees to automatically set aside their convictions so that they no longer have a criminal record.
“These individuals are real people who have lost not only years of their lives, but also remain forever attached to the stigma created by being (wrongfully) convicted of a heinous crime,” Sen. Irwin said. “The state Legislature has an obligation to address these wrongdoings as quickly as possible.”
An extensive application process currently exists for offenders who want to apply to have their convictions set aside. However, the numerous criteria that they must meet, along with a $50 application fee, prevents many individuals from even trying. Sen. Irwin acknowledges that it is incredibly unfair to make people jump through these hoops when they have proven to a court that they were not culpable for their crimes to begin with.
Furthermore, the ability to expunge their record is extremely important given the numerous restrictions put in place on individuals with felony convictions in our state. In Michigan, individuals convicted of a felony cannot join the military, cannot obtain a liquor license, are precluded from having a Michigan gaming license and cannot serve on a jury. Having a record also makes it extremely difficult to obtain employment since many employers still require a criminal background check.
It is also a serious struggle for ex-convicts to find affordable, safe housing — under current Michigan law, landlords have the right to discriminate against applicants with a record. As a result, individuals who were previously incarcerated are nearly 10 times more likely to be homeless than the general population.
“We must not allow any more exonerees to continue to suffer under policies that prevent them from accessing many important resources in life,” Sen. Irwin said. “The state can never undo the enormous damage caused by a wrongful criminal conviction, but by swiftly expunging their records, it allows exonerees to finally move on with their lives. They should not have to wait another minute or pay a single dollar to do so.”
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