By E. Drew Nelson, Attorney at Law
There is good news for many people in North Carolina who would like to have their criminal records expunged. If you have ever searched for a job after having been charged with a crime, you likely understand how frustrating it can be to find an employer willing to hire you. In North Carolina, even pending and dismissed charges can stay on your record forever. This is also true if you were tried and found innocent.
The good news? Under North Carolina law, there are certain instances in which an individual may qualify to have their criminal record “expunged” and the previous arrest or conviction removed. The laws were changed under N.C. Senate Bill 445 in December of 2017 to expand the number of people who qualify to have their record expunged. It is estimated that up to two-million North Carolinians may benefit from this change, allowing them to apply to have their records expunged and make it easier to find employment and housing.
Expungement (sometimes called expunction) is not an option in all cases. In the past, you were limited to one expungement in North Carolina in your lifetime. That has now changed. Individuals are able to apply to expunge multiple dismissed charges as long as the individual has not been convicted of a felony and does not have charges pending, among other requirements. The law does not allow you to expunge violent felonies, violent misdemeanors, or certain drug offenses. The individual applying for expungement must also have stayed out of trouble since the original arrest. There are other requirements that must be met, so speaking with a North Carolina criminal defense attorney is your best option to find out if you qualify.
Effective December 1, 2017 in North Carolina, the expunction laws changed to allow a broader base of individuals to potentially clear their past criminal records. The changes in the law fall into three general categories (note: there are some other specific rules based on offense that may differ from the general information provided here):
- Dismissed charges and not-guilty verdicts
If you have not previously been convicted of a felony, you may (without having to wait) apply to have dismissed charges and not-guilty verdicts removed from your record.
- Non-violent misdemeanor convictions
For a non-violent misdemeanor conviction, you may apply to have the charges removed five (5) years from when you were convicted or when you completed your sentence – whichever date is later. Under the old law, this wait time was 15 years, so the new law opens up the possibility of expunging a record to a much larger group. Anyone with an A1 misdemeanor, DWI, or assault charge will not qualify. There are a few other exceptions, as well.
- Non-violent felony convictions
The new law drops the application date from 15 years to ten (10) years from when you were convicted or when you completed your sentence – again, whichever date is later. Exceptions include Class A through G felonies and any charge that involves assault. There are a few other exceptions, as well.
Some important notes: As of July 1, 2018, prosecutors and law enforcement will have access to expunged records. This information may be used in determining sentences, i.e., a past criminal history, even if expunged, might result in a harsher sentence for a future felony conviction. In addition, while the legal system may recognize your record has been expunged, the reference to the charges may live on the Internet forever.
To request an expungement, a petition must be filed with notice to the district attorney in the jurisdiction where the original charge was filed. A filing fee typically must also be paid. The court must find all the factors listed above are met, and the petitioner must not have any outstanding warrants or pending criminal cases, restitution orders or civil judgments for restitution, and must have remained of good moral character. The entire process can take a year or more. If you believe you may qualify to have your criminal record expunged, you should speak to an attorney about the specifics of your situation.