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Michigan Drug Law Easier on Serious Criminals?

In many states, legislation offering second chances allows first-time drug offenders to start over with a clean slate-and no criminal record. A few years ago, a bill suggesting nationally regulated second chance laws was even presented to the House.

The theory behind clearing the record of first-time offenders, according to criminal defense attorneys, is that some people genuinely mess up and will benefit more from a second chance at clean living than from a stint behind bars, reports But sometimes, the laws don’t work quite as they’re meant to. One such example occurs in Michigan.

Records show that Michigan’s drug laws allow certain first-time offenders to have convictions expunged, or permanently cleared, from their records. Nothing unusual there. But, according to, people with more serious criminal charges actually have a better chance of having their records cleared than those with more minor charges!

The reason is this: if you get a conviction punished by fines, probation, or less than a year in jail, you’ll face a mandatory license suspension and have the charges on your criminal record for ten years, reports show. So, basically, minor offenses are punished by license suspension and a criminal record.

If you’re convicted on a charge that lands you more than one year in prison, you reportedly won’t face any license restrictions and you can apply to have your record cleared five years after your conviction or leaving prison. Lawmakers apparently assumed that anyone in prison wouldn’t need a license suspension, since you can’t drive in jail.

But the record clearing? It hardly seems fair that someone convicted of a felony drug crime could potentially have a better criminal record than someone found guilty of a minor, first-time offense.

One Michigan judge apparently agreed with that assessment. In a recent ruling, he allegedly announced that the difference in treatment of serious and minor drug offenses violated equal treatment standards outlined by both the United States Constitution and the state of Michigan’s.

To demonstrate a judgment he believed would be more just, he recently set aside the minor drug convictions of two residents, sources say. One, a 60-year-old woman, reportedly pled no contest to charges of growing marijuana. The other, a 26-year-old man, was allegedly found guilty of possessing Ecstasy.

Though the Attorney General’s office is supposedly considering appealing the decisions, the judge seems to have made his point: according to reports, the woman continues to own land and a business in Michigan, and the man recently graduated college.

So what does this mean for Michigan residents? There may be a serious flaw in the way the second-chance law operates. Records show that more than 28,000 residents of the state faced license suspensions for drug-related charges in 2006. But could some of those have been avoided if the law was amended to go easier on first-timers with less serious convictions?

That remains to be seen. If you are involved with drug charges of any sort, contact a criminal defense attorney to better understand the penalties and repercussions you might face.

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