In total, this year Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed six criminal reform bills with the support of strong majorities in both the Michigan State’s Congress and Senate chambers.
Correcting Excessive Sentencing
Many people suffer long prison sentences for marijuana charges. In Michigan, one case that gained media attention is the case of Michael Thompson. Thompson was convicted of selling three pounds of marijuana to an undercover law enforcement agent in 1996.
The State Attorney General Dana Nessel led an initiative to get the 69-year old man released from prison with clemency, due to the outrageously long sentence he received. He was sentenced to 42 to 60 years in prison because he was also convicted of an illegal firearm possession offense. That length of a prison sentence is usually reserved for rapists or second-degree murder.
Under the new law, the maximum sentence for Thompson’s crimes would be eight years. He has been in prison for nearly 24 years. His release was also requested by the State Attorney General for humanitarian reasons since Thompson contracted COVID-19 in prison. Michael Thompson is Michigan’s longest-serving prisoner for a non-violent offense.
Thompson will benefit from the spirit of the new criminal reform laws despite the firearm conviction. The governor’s office stated that it will work as expeditiously as possible to process the paperwork for his release through parole in November 2020.
Criminal History Changes
To the relief of hundreds of thousands who have a criminal record for low-level, non-violent marijuana charges in the state of Michigan, on Monday, October 12, 2020, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed new legislation into law for criminal reform. These new laws expunge the records of low-level marijuana offenses. Records can be expunged if the conviction resulted from a crime that would not be illegal under the new Michigan laws. These laws made marijuana growing, sales, and use legal for medicinal and recreational purposes, on December 6, 2018.
Expungement means the record is removed from a person’s criminal history. The conviction no longer has to be admitted to, on any application for a job or apartment rental, or otherwise. It removes these marijuana misdemeanors and felonies. It restores the right to vote if there are no other criminal offenses. An expungement makes the charge and conviction disappear from the public records as if the marijuana conviction never happened.
Apply for Expungement
To receive the benefits of expungement, a person must apply for this process and the application may be challenged by state prosecutors. The state prosecutors must challenge the application within 60 days of its filing; otherwise, it will automatically be approved by the state government.
Moreover, there is a broader expungement bill that includes other low-level convictions, which creates a system for automatic expungement. This system will be placed in service over the next two and a half years to correct the criminal history records.
As marijuana becomes a part of normal society, with the legalization of cannabis use for medicinal and recreational purposes, these long-suffering prisoners will be released. Those who have been harmed by having a criminal record for marijuana possession or other non- violent marijuana-related crimes will no longer have the shadow of their criminal records making life more difficult than it need be.
This is a welcome relief from a horrible injustice that was a long-time coming. Similar criminal reform efforts are happening in many other states, which make a compelling argument for national criminal justice reform as well.
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