Sarissa Montague on New Clean Slate Legislation for Non-Repeat OWI Offenders

On Monday, Aug, 23, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed House Bills 4219 and 4220, which will allow for expungement of convictions for a first violation of operating while intoxicated (OWI) under certain circumstances. Sarissa Montague, criminal defense attorney with Kalamazoo-based Levine and Levine, believes this is an important step in removing the stigma associated with mistakes made during individuals’ pasts.

“Over the past year or so, Michigan’s government has made significant changes to the expungement laws, allowing people who have made all types of mistakes in the past to clear their records,” Montague said. “However, people who have been convicted of drunk driving one time, so people who have made this mistake only once in their lives, were completely prohibited from having the drunk driving conviction removed from their criminal record. With the signing of the new law, this group of people will now be eligible for expungement and will no longer be stigmatized by their past. This is an excellent development and I expect many people to take advantage of this opportunity.”

Montague spoke with FOX 17 in Grand Rapids and WILX in Lansing about the newly signed legislation. Watch her interviews here: 

WILX: Gov. Whitmer signs bills allowing non-repeat OWI offenders to get a clean slate

FOX 17: Kalamazoo criminal defense attorney believes new expungement laws could be 'life changing'

Below is the public release on House Bills 4219 and 4220 from the Governor’s office:

Governor Whitmer Signs Legislation Allowing Clean Slate for Non-Repeat OWI Offenders,

Protects Michigan Drivers by Ensuring that Michigan’s Legal BAC Limit Remains at .08

LANSING, Mich. -- Governor Whitmer yesterday signed House Bills 4219 and 4220, which will allow for expungement of convictions for a first violation of operating while intoxicated (OWI) under certain circumstances. The bills are expected to allow an estimated 200,000 non-repeat OWI offenders to have the opportunity for a second chance at a clean record. The governor also signed legislation that continues Michigan’s legal blood alcohol content (BAC) level for driving at .08, eliminating a planned sunset that 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.”

The bills give those with OWI convictions the option to seek expungement of their first offense five years after probation ends. Applicants must submit a petition to the court, which would be reviewed and determined by a judge. Incidents that caused death or serious injury to a victim are not eligible.

“Safe & Just Michigan thanks Gov. Whitmer for signing these popular, bipartisan bills, which represent a long-awaited chance for a fresh start for tens of thousands of Michiganders whose opportunities have been limited by a single old DUI conviction,” Safe & Just Michigan Executive Director John S. Cooper said. “Drunk driving is a serious problem in Michigan, but permanently limiting a person’s ability to work and drive based on a one-time, decades-old mistake does not make sense. People who can show that their DUI conviction was a one-time mistake should have an opportunity to make a fresh start.”

“We are honored to work alongside many coalition partners to shed light on the needlessly harsh and racially-biased criminal legal system that especially impacts youth, Black people and communities of color,” says Shelli Weisberg, ACLU of Michigan Political Director. “The expungement law is another step forward in transforming our criminal legal system so that people have the opportunity to be restored and can contribute to their communities. We urge lawmakers to continue on this path of reform until the work is done.”

House Bill 4219 and House Bill 4220 will allow first-time OWI offense violators to be eligible for record expungement.

Together, the bills allow for the criminal record expungement of first-time offenses for:

  • 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

House Bill 4219 was sponsored by Rep. Tenisha Yancey, D-Grosse Pointe, and House Bill 4220 was sponsored by Rep. Joe Bellino, R-Monroe, and copies of the bills can be found here and here.

House Bill 4308 and House Bill 4309 will together amend the Michigan Vehicle Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure to maintain the state’s per se OWI presumption at a BAC level of .08. Without this legislation, Michigan BAC legal limit was set to rise to .10 on October 1, 2021, endangering Michigan drivers and costing the state millions in federal dollars.

“Michigan is the only state in the country not to have a firm .08 Blood Alcohol Concentration limit for operating a motor vehicle,” said Rep. Graham Filler. “Eliminating the sunset is not only the right thing to do, but it ensures the safety of those traveling on our roads."

House Bill 4308 was sponsored by Rep. Abdullah Hammoud, D-Dearborn, and House Bill 4309 was sponsored by Rep. Graham Filler, R-DeWitt, and copies of the bills can be found here and here.

A copy of the signing letter can be found here:

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