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Is it Time to Clean up your Criminal Record?

Most people mistakenly believe that once their charges have been dismissed that they are gone forever and they no longer have to worry about them. It is not until they apply for a new job or admission into a new school that they realize that they are still paying for their past mistakes, or for false charges for which they were not convicted. The dismissed charges continue to appear on their criminal record despite the fact that they were never convicted. To have that charge removed from your record permanently you would need to petition the court for what is known as an expunction or expungement.

New and significant changes are coming to North Carolina's expunction laws. Governor Roy Cooper recently signed into law Senate Bill 445, a bipartisan measure significantly expanding access to expungements in the State of North Carolina, thus making it substantially easier for people to clean up their records and erase old criminal convictions and charges. While there are other changes going into effect regarding expungements, this article will focus on the changes in the law specifically related to North Carolina General Statute § 15A-146, which deals with the expunction of records when charges are dismissed or there are findings of not guilty.

New Expunction Law Changes in North Carolina effective December 1, 2017:

  • For first-time, nonviolent felony charges, you may now be eligible for an expungement after ten years, instead of the fifteen year wait under the prior law.
  • For first-time, nonviolent misdemeanor charges, you may now be eligible for an expungement after just five years, down from the fifteen year wait under the prior law.
  • Under the prior law, each person was limited to the expungement of just one charge in their lifetime which resulted in a "not guilty" verdict or the dismissal of that charge. Beginning December 1, 2017, so long as you have not been convicted of a felony, it is possible to have an unlimited number of expungements for all charges resulting in a "not guilty" verdict or charges which were dismissed, per North Carolina General Statute § 15A-146.
  • The new law will provide North Carolina prosecutors with electronic access to records expunged on or after July 1, 2018. For any expungement granted on or after July 1, 2018, the expunged criminal records may be used to calculate prior record level if you are later convicted of a new unrelated charge. Charges that were dismissed and later expunged will not impact your prior record level, as there was no conviction in the matter. However, it is possible that prosecutors may use this information when negotiating plea deal or deferred prosecutions.
  • Under the new law, if you have a conviction expunged on or after July 1, 2018, and then commit a new, similar offense in the future, the expunged conviction will be treated as a prior conviction.

Previously, if you were charged with a crime that resulted in a dismissal or "not guilty" verdict and later had that charge expunged, you were often prohibited from having any other charge expunged for the rest of your life in North Carolina. This is commonly referred to as the 'one and done rule'. While there are exceptions to this rule, generally speaking a person charged with a crime in North Carolina had to be cautious when deciding to petition the courts for an expunction of their criminal records. You would not want to file for an expunction for an underage drinking ticket, for example, if you knew that five years later you would be falsely accused of something much more serious; however, given that we do not have the ability to see into the future, people often found themselves regretting having used their one and only expungement on a less serious criminal charge. The new laws address this issue.

Going forward, so long as a person otherwise qualifies for an expungement under North Carolina General Statute § 15A-146, the new law will allow a person to obtain more than one expungement if the charges were dismissed or resulted in a verdict of 'not guilty'. Put another way, beginning December 1, 2017 there will be no limit on the number of eligible charges that one can have expunged under North Carolina General Statute § 15A-146. Unfortunately, if you are convicted of a felony under the laws of North Carolina, or any other state, or if you are convicted of a felony under federal law, you will not qualify for an expungement.

This legislation will make a real difference in the lives of many North Carolina citizens who have been held back due to a mistake in their past, or due to a false charge they were wrongly accused of. It will allow an opportunity to clean up a record that has multiple charges which were dismissed or resulted in 'not guilty' verdicts. No longer will you have to wonder if you lost out on a job opportunity because your criminal record shows a charge for which you were never convicted.

If you would like to know if you qualify for an expunction please contact Wayne Conner at The Graham.Nuckolls.Conner Law Firm, PLLC for a free consultation. You can reach us at 252-493-6114 or toll-free at 800-682-1756.

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