Some residents of northern Michigan could be eligible to have their criminal records expunged. The Michigan Supreme Court and University of Detroit Mercy’s law school will be holding a series of clinics that will help guide people through that process.
The first clinic will be held in Gratiot County on July 26, and four more will be held the following week in Wexford, Missaukee, Crawford, Kalkaska, and Otsego counties. There, various legal professionals will conduct interviews, review applications, determine expungement eligibility, and even draft motions for expungements. They will also help those seeking expungement secure a hearing date and file an application with the court.
Nick Schroeck is the associate dean of experiential education at Detroit Mercy's law school. He says there’s a lot of specific stipulations that go into getting a criminal record expunged, and it’s difficult to obtain an expungement without the help of an attorney.
“The only exceptions that aren't expungeable would be crimes that are potentially punishable by life imprisonment, or crimes that include criminal sexual assault, and then there's a variety of traffic offenses, things like operating while impaired that would not be eligible, but your basic misdemeanors, something like jaywalking or loitering would be eligible,” he says.
But it gets even more complicated than that.
“If someone had [been charged with] possession of a controlled substance, as long as they weren’t in a vehicle, it’s pretty clear that we’d be able to work on an expungement, but if they’re in a car, that’s kind of related to the traffic offense category, and that gets a little more sticky,” Schroeck said.
The number of convictions on your record matters as well.
“If you have more than two misdemeanors on your record, you can't get any of them expunged, and if you have more than one felony, you can't get a felony expunged. So for a lot of people, you might have multiple crimes on your record. It's kind of very specific to the statutes of what we're allowed to do in Michigan,” he explains.
The complexity of the process is what necessitates the legal help in the first place, and access to an attorney can be prohibitively expensive. Schroeck says the clinics are meant to provide that help to those who wouldn’t normally be able to seek it.
“We worked with judges in these different counties, and the first question we asked was if they thought there would be a need or interest in these communities to have this type of clinic operate, and we heard back from many circuit court judges saying yes, please come.”
With help from a $20,000 grant from the Michigan Bar Foundation and the assistance of these courts, “it was a question of trying to find areas where there’s a great need, and finding areas where courts could help with all the logistics,” Schroeck explained.
Law students from the University of Detroit Mercy will be among those providing legal assistance at these clinics. Schroeck says this is a great opportunity for students to get clinical experience.
“The statute is complicated, there’s a lot of hoops people need to jump through to get an expungement. It’s a great learning opportunity for our students while also providing an excellent service to these communities.”