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State Highlight – North Carolina’s Record Clearance Expansion

May 8 2018

North Carolina’s General Assembly moved to significantly reduce waiting periods and expand the number of records eligible for clearance with Session Law 2017-195, which went into effect December 1, 2017.

Notably, the law reduces the waiting period to expunge a nonviolent felony conviction record from 15 years to 10 years; for a nonviolent misdemeanor record, the law reduces the period from 15 years to 5 years.

“The reduced waiting periods make the relief more meaningful by making it available sooner, when people are more likely to be adversely affected by having a criminal record,” said John Rubin, a law professor at the University of North Carolina and author of Relief from a Criminal Conviction: A Digital Guide to Expunctions, Certificates of Relief, and Other Procedures in North Carolina.

Before the law’s enactment, dismissal or acquittal charges could not be expunged if the person had already obtained an expunction for another case. The law removes that restriction. It also eliminates the requirement that the dismissal or acquittal charges must have originated in the same 12-month period to be expunged. Furthermore, with some clarifying language, the law reinforces that a court can expunge dismissal and acquittal charges even if the person was convicted of one or more misdemeanors in the same case. However, a person with a previous felony conviction remains ineligible to expunge dismissal and acquittal records.

“By repealing the provision that allowed one expunction of a dismissal or acquittal for life, the North Carolina General Assembly expanded the opportunity for relief,” Rubin said.

Data show that dismissal and acquittal records made up the large majority of expunged records, even before the new law took effect: From July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, North Carolina courts issued 12,438 orders to expunge records, of which 10,457 (84 percent) dealt with dismissal and acquittal records. The second most common type of expunged records involved people erroneously named as perpetrators of crimes because of identity theft or mistake; these matters, which also include non-conviction records, were the subject of 1,010 orders (8 percent). Orders to expunge conviction records of older nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors were a distant third, with 500 issued (4 percent).

Data on the impact of the December 2017 changes are not yet available. The law’s elimination of the prior expunction bar and shortening of the waiting periods should significantly increase both the non-conviction and conviction records eligible to be expunged.

While the law increases access to record clearance, it also directs the state court system to provide all North Carolina state prosecutors with a list of people whose records are expunged on or after July 1, 2018, along with copies of their petitions. Excluded from the list are people who obtained expunction orders for cases in which they were found not guilty. Prosecutors can use conviction records expunged on or after July 1, 2018,  to determine a sentence if the person is later convicted of a new criminal offense.


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