Whitmer signs expungement bills for first-time drunk driving offenses

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has signed two House Bills into law that allow for people who have a single conviction of driving while intoxicated to have their crimes expunged.

Whitmer signed the one bill on Tuesday to allow the expungement of drunk driving for first-time offenders and it's expected to clear the records of roughly 200,000 OWI offenders. The other bill keeps Michigan's legal blood alcohol content (BAC) level for driving at .08. It was planned to sunset and would have increased the limit to .10.

"No one should be defined by a mistake they have made in the past," said Governor 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."

An expungement, or set aside, clears the public record of a conviction so it does not appear in a background check. Law enforcement still keeps a non-public record, but people no longer have to disclose their criminal past on job applications or other forms.

Who qualifies for Michigan's OWI expungement?

Under the provisions of the bills, people convicted of OWI can seek expungement of the first offense five years after probation ends. People will have to submit a petition to the court which would be reviewed and decided upon by a judge.

Drivers who have been convicted of OWI qualify if they meet the following criteria:

  • Any person 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  
  • Any person from operating a vehicle with any bodily amount of cocaine or a Schedule 1 controlled substance  

Drivers who were drunk and caused death or serious injury to another person are not eligible for the expungement plan.

Michigan's history with clean slate bills

The Legislature passed a larger, bipartisan package of so-called clean-slate bills last year, but Gov. Gretchen Whitmer pocket vetoed a separate bill that included the initial drunken driving conviction expungement option by letting it expire without signing it.

RELATED: Michigan lawmaker "incredulous" after Whitmer refuses to sign drunk driving bill

When Whitmer refused to sign the first bill, which had received bipartisan support from the House and Senate, her office gave no reason why. Her lack of action on the bill came just months after she signed multiple bills to clean the slates for people convicted of marijuana offenses.

Prior to the signing on Tuesday, Michigan did not allow someone to petition a court to set aside a conviction for operating a vehicle while intoxicated. 

There were about 30,000 arrests for operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs in 2019, according to the state police.