A criminal conviction has lasting consequences, and there are many people who could dramatically improve their lives if they were able to expunge a previously dismissed criminal charge or a prior criminal conviction from their criminal record. However, due to a new law in North Carolina, some of those people will now receive the relief and assistance they have been so desperately seeking. On December 1, 2017, new expunction laws in North Carolina will take effect that will provide broader relief for people who are looking to have their criminal records expunged. Although many people will remain ineligible for an expunction, the new law will be quite beneficial in two meaningful situations.
First, under current North Carolina law, North Carolina General Statute 15A-146 allows for one expunction for charges which are either dismissed or where there is a finding of “not guilty”. As a result, if a person is charged with multiple offenses which are later dismissed or there is a finding of “not guilty”, that person is prevented from expunging multiple offenses unless these offenses “occurred within the same 12-month period of time or if the charges are dismissed or findings are made at the same term of court”. However, under the new law, an individual will now be entitled to an unlimited number of expunctions whenever a charge is dismissed or there is a finding of “not guilty”.
Consider the following scenario:
A defendant was charged with Possession of Marijuana Less than 1/2 Ounce, a class 3 misdemeanor, on January 1, 2014. After a trial, the defendant was found “not guilty”. For the purpose of this hypothetical scenario, let’s imagine that the same defendant was then subsequently charged with Misdemeanor Larceny, a class 1 misdemeanor, on March 4, 2016. Let’s also imagine that his larceny charge was dismissed six months later after the defendant successfully completed the Deferred Prosecution Program.
Under the current law, the defendant in the previous scenario would be forced to choose which charge he would want to expunge from his criminal record. However, under the new North Carolina expunction law, the defendant will able to expunge both charges from his criminal record and still be able to expunge any future charges that are either dismissed or where there is a finding of “not guilty”.
The second situation in which the new North Carolina expunction law will be more beneficial involves individuals who are trying to expunge a prior criminal conviction. Expunging a criminal conviction in North Carolina is more difficult than most people realize because it depends on the type of crime which led to the conviction, the amount of time that has passed since the conviction occurred, a person’s age at the time of the offense, and whether there have been other criminal convictions. North Carolina General Statute 15A-145 allows for expunctions for certain misdemeanors if the offense was committed prior to the individual’s 18th birthday and for some additional misdemeanors that were committed prior to the individual’s 21st birthday. N.C.G.S. 15A-145 remains unchanged by the new expunction law.
The new expunction law, however, directly addresses which convictions are eligible for expunction under North Carolina General Statute 15A-145.5. Under current North Carolina law, N.C.G.S. 15A-145.5, certain non-violent felonies and misdemeanors are eligible to be expunged regardless of the person’s age at the time of the offense. For those qualifying misdemeanors, the new law reduces the waiting period to file for the expunction from 10 years to 5 years. For those qualifying felonies, the new expunction law reduces the waiting period to file for the expunction from 15 years to 10 years. For both situations, however, that filing period does not begin until “after the date of the conviction or when any active sentence, period of probation, and post-release supervision has been served, whichever occurs later”.
To illustrate how the new expunction law, as opposed to the current expunction law, would apply to some qualifying criminal offenses, please consider the following hypothetical scenario:
On October 15, 2002, a defendant was charged with Felony Larceny, and the defendant was over the age of 18 at the time of the offense. The defendant pleaded guilty to that felony in Forsyth County District on December 2, 2002. As a result, the judge sentenced the defendant to supervised probation for 24 months, and the defendant successfully completed the probation. Therefore, the December was released from probation in December 2004. Let’s assume for the purpose of this hypothetical situation that the defendant did not have a prior record prior to this charge, and the defendant has not been charged or convicted of any subsequent criminal offenses.
Under current North Carolina expunction law, the defendant in the above-referenced scenario would not be eligible for an expunction of this conviction until some time in December 2019 – fifteen years after his probation has ended. However, with the new North Carolina expunction law reducing the filing period to 10 years for prior qualifying felony convictions, that defendant will be eligible to petition for his record to be expunged on or after December 1, 2017.
The changes to our current law are promising because this law will now benefit countless people and finally allow them to move past the hindrance that is often caused by not having a clean criminal record. Hopefully, this change in our North Carolina expunction law is the first of many changes that will provide even greater expunction eligibility for more people who are seeking to have their record expunged in North Carolina.
If you are interested in having your record expunged in Winston-Salem, Forsyth County, North Carolina or one of the surrounding counties in North Carolina, you need an experienced North Carolina criminal expunction attorney to handle your case. An experienced Winston-Salem expunction attorney, with experience in North Carolina expunction law, will guide you through this process to make sure that all of your rights are being protected and that all possible expungement opportunities are being considered. Please call us at (336) 725-6559 and schedule a free consultation with a Winston-Salem expunction lawyer to assist you. Our office is located for your convenience in downtown Winston-Salem, North Carolina.