By the North Carolina Justice Center with additions by The Chronicle
Since Dec. 1, more North Carolinians are able to expunge certain criminal records that give rise to severe barriers to employment, housing, and other essential opportunities.
This kind of action has been advocated by some local judges, the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce and others, such as the Ministers’ Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity.
On July 28, Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law Senate Bill 445, a bipartisan measure that allows most people to expunge all criminal charges that do not result in convictions and reduces how long a person must wait to expunge a first-time nonviolent misdemeanor or felony conviction. Specifically, Senate Bill 445:
*Reduces the wait period for expunction of a first-time nonviolent misdemeanor from 15 years to five years.
*Reduces the wait period for expunction of a first-time nonviolent felony from 15 years to 10 years.
*Provides for expunction of all charges that are dismissed or disposed “not guilty” as long the person has not been convicted of a felony offense.
*Makes several improvements to the expunction process, including standardizing the filing procedures across all jurisdictions and ensuring all relevant state agencies and petitioners receive and enforce expunction orders.
*Provides prosecutors access to most criminal records expunged under the new law.
In North Carolina, the expunction of a criminal record returns an individual to the status he or she held before the charge or conviction occurred. Once expunged, an individual may truthfully deny the charge or conviction ever occurred, in most circumstances.
There are exceptions, including for purposes of federal immigration. SB 445 does not expand expunction eligibility to include multiple convictions disposed in separate court sessions or change the types of convictions considered “nonviolent.”
“We are excited to celebrate these new laws for the positive impacts they will have in the lives of tens of thousands of individuals and families across our state,” said Daniel Bowes, attorney for the N.C. Justice Center’s Second Chance Initiative. “But our ultimate goal is for men and women with criminal records to have a fair chance at gainful employment, safe and affordable housing, school admission, and other essential opportunities without having to hide their criminal records.”
For more information on expunction eligibility and procedures, go to http://www.ncjustice.org/.