When you are convicted of any offense in North Carolina, the consequences can influence your life long after you complete your sentence. Whether you are convicted of a misdemeanor or felony, you will have a permanent criminal record that can affect your ability to obtain a job, a professional license, housing, and much more. Unfortunately, North Carolina had very harsh expungement laws until a new law went into effect in December 2017, that makes it easier to obtain an expungement.
What Is an Expungement?
An expungement is a way that you can avoid the harsh consequences of a criminal conviction. If your request for an expungement of criminal convictions is granted, the judge orders the police to destroy your criminal record for those convictions. However, under the prior law, it was difficult to obtain an expungement, and there was a very long waiting period to do so.
What Are the Major Changes Under the New Expungement Rules?
On December 1, 2017, a new expungement law went into effect that will make it easier for millions of residents in North Carolina to clear their criminal records and do so much faster than under the prior law. This will also hopefully enable residents who have successfully completed their sentences to obtain employment because they will not have a criminal record to disclose. Some of the major changes to the law include:
- Nonviolent misdemeanors. For nonviolent misdemeanors, the waiting time for an expungement is reduced from 15 years to 5 years. However, the conviction cannot be for an A1 misdemeanor, DWI, or an offense that involves assault as an element of the crime. Special rules apply to DWI expungements, and other exceptions also apply.
- Nonviolent felony convictions. The waiting time to file for an expungement is reduced from 15 years to 10 years. You are not eligible for an expungement if the conviction was for a Class A through G felony or where assault was an element of the crime. As with nonviolent misdemeanors, there are other crimes that are ineligible for expungement.
- Dismissal or not guilty verdict. The new law eliminates the number of expungements that you are entitled to if the charges are dismissed or you are found not guilty at trial. There is also no waiting period. The law voids the prior requirements that all of the offenses being expunged have occurred within the same 12-month period. It allows the expungement of a dismissal even if you have been convicted of another misdemeanor in the same class. However, an expungement is not allowed if you have a prior felony conviction.
Prosecutors will have access to charges and convictions expunged after December 1, 2017, and these offenses can be considered prior offenses for purposes of sentencing if you are convicted of committing another crime.
What NC Expungement Laws Are Not Changed by the New Law?
Some provisions of the prior expungement laws have not been changed under the legislation passed in December, 2017. Some rules that remain the same include:
- Age during a first offense. Depending on the specific offense, you may be eligible for an expungement under the first offenders’ statute, which has shorter waiting periods. For example, if you were a first offender under 18 years old at your conviction, you could be eligible under this statute if your conviction was for a misdemeanor, certain gang-related offenses, or a nonviolent felony.
- Class convictions. The types and classifications of convictions remain the same. This means that you must have been convicted of a nonviolent crime, and the felony class must be lower than a Class G to be eligible for an expungement. However, some crimes that have a lower classification, such as breaking or entering or certain drug offenses, are also ineligible for expungement.
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