Residents get help clearing their criminal records

High Demand for Radiation Clinic Held by Ottawa County Office of the Public Defender

GRAND HAVEN — Dozens of residents began the process of expunging old convictions from their criminal records with the help of local attorneys at an event Friday at the Ottawa County Courthouse in Grand Haven.

The radiation clinic, the first of its kind hosted by the Ottawa County Public Defender’s Office, has helped residents take advantage of Michigan’s “Clean Slate” laws that went into effect in 2021 and 2022, significantly expanding the eligibility and reducing wait times before convictions can be sealed.

Seventy residents received free help, and only nine had to be turned away because they weren’t eligible for expungement, said attorney Patrick Kolehouse of the public defender’s office.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel was on hand to support the event.

“Today, the Ottawa County Public Defender’s Office helped pave the way to a brighter future for our fellow citizens,” said Nichole Jongsma Derks, Ottawa County Public Defender. “In partnership with Safe and Just Michigan and West Michigan Works, our Erasure Clinic has provided excellent service in helping people determine their eligibility to vacate convictions, complete necessary petitions, notarize documents, and complete fingerprints in a convenient setting.”

The public defender said the office hopes to schedule more clinics after Friday’s high demand. Appointment slots were filled almost immediately when the clinic was announced in mid-April.

Subscribe: Get unlimited access to our local coverage

“There are people who haven’t committed a crime for many years and can’t get a job, can’t get a driver’s license, they can’t live in certain places they want to live, they can’t get a student loan if they want to get an education,” Nessel told the Grand Haven Tribune. “It really prevents them from being able to support themselves and their families. for the rest of their lives seems like an unfair punishment, and we’re really holding people back, especially right now when we have so many employers who need employees.

The state’s first round of “Clean Slate” reforms took effect in April 2021 and expanded the number and type of convictions that can be overturned, in addition to reducing the waiting period.

A second law passed in 2021 and in effect since February added first-time drunken convictions to the list of eligible offenses that can be overturned, as long as the OWI did not cause serious injury or harm. death or did not occur with a child in the car.

In 2023, Michigan will begin automatically expunging certain nonviolent convictions if the person commits no new offenses during the waiting period. Up to two felonies and up to four misdemeanors can be cleared automatically; felonies after 10 years and misdemeanors after seven years.