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North Carolina’s Second Chance Act: How Criminal Expungements Have Changed

By Randall & Stump excels in criminal defense, serving clients in Charlotte, NC & other surrounding cities.
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Category Expungement
Thursday, October 12, 2023

Definition of expungement in dictionary


You can erase an arrest, criminal charge, and conviction from public record by filing for and being granted an expungement. Every state has different rules for what the courts will and won’t automatically seal from the public. In North Carolina, whatever the court expunges becomes private. As a result, you don’t have to disclose it when you apply for a job, apartment, or a university. Expungement is a valuable legal tool to fight the stigma of a criminal record.

In June 2020, North Carolina’s General Assembly passed SB 562, or the Second Chance Act, which went into effect on Dec. 1, 2020. The Second Chance Act expanded eligibility for who can apply for an expungement, what crimes can be expunged, and the number of convictions that may be expunged in North Carolina.

Terms You Need To Know

When we talk about expungements, it’s essential to understand these terms:

Arrest: Police can arrest you when they suspect you committed a crime. At the time of arrest, unless you are released without being charged, you have been accused of a crime but not convicted.

Charge(s): You may be formally charged with a misdemeanor or felony offense. Criminal charges can be dismissed or lead to an acquittal or conviction. Charges stay on your record even if you are acquitted, or the charge is later dismissed in court.

Misdemeanor: Misdemeanors are less severe than felonies. You can face up to 150 days in jail and other penalties if convicted of a misdemeanor in North Carolina.

Felony: Felonies are the most serious crimes in North Carolina and are placed in levels based on their severity. There are ten levels of felonies in North Carolina, and the penalties vary significantly. For the most severe felonies, you face life in prison or the death penalty.

Dismissal: When charges are dismissed, the case is over. A case is dismissed when there isn’t probable cause you committed a crime or there’s enough evidence to prove your innocence. Unfortunately, the criminal charges stay on your record even if the charges are dismissed.

Acquittal: An acquittal means a jury or a judge during a bench trial determined you were not guilty of committing the crime. The case remains on your record despite your innocence and being found not guilty.

Conviction: A conviction means a judge or jury determined you were guilty of committing a crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

These terms matter when determining whether you’re eligible for expungement.

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Expungement in North Carolina

There are many rules and requirements that must be met for someone to file an expungement in North Carolina, which is why it’s helpful to consult a lawyer.

These rules include the following:

  • You may receive unlimited expungements for arrests and charges that end in dismissal or acquittal.
  • There’s no waiting period to ask a court to seal arrests, dismissals, and acquittals.
  • You may have one non-violent felony conviction expunged.
  • You must wait ten years after a non-violent felony conviction to apply for expungement.
  • You may have one non-violent misdemeanor conviction expunged, but there are exceptions when you may have more than one expunged. Exceptions are defined under North Carolina’s First Step Act.
  • Before applying for expungement, you must wait five years after a non-violent misdemeanor conviction. The waiting period does not start until you complete your sentence; this includes probation.

Required Documents and Fees

To expunge a conviction, you must provide several documents, including a petition form for each type of expunction. Some cases may require additional documents, such as witness affidavits declaring you have a good moral character.

There is no filing fee if you’re expunging a dismissal or acquittal. In other cases, there’s a filing fee of $175. The expungement process can take up to 10 months.

Are All Offenses Eligible for Expungement?

Not every offense is eligible to be expunged. Exceptions include:

  • Violent misdemeanors, violent felonies, and certain drug crime convictions.
  • You might not be able to have a conviction sealed if you’ve been convicted of a separate felony offense, whether before or after the conviction you are seeking to expunge.

Expanded Eligibility for Expungement

If you wait seven years, the Second Chance Act lets you expunge multiple misdemeanor convictions. This is a significant change from North Carolina’s previous expungement rules. The seven-year period starts once you complete the punishment for your most recent conviction. Of course, waiting means good behavior. You can’t be convicted of another crime in that time.

Juvenile Record Expungements

If you were arrested or charged with a misdemeanor or Class H or I felony before Dec. 1, 2019, you can ask for the matter to be expunged. Other eligibility requirements are that you have no restitution left to pay and have completed your sentence, including probation.

Other Automatic Expungements

The Second Chance Act also takes a big step for future defendants. Starting Dec. 1, 2021, the court automatically seals certain cases:

  • Certain misdemeanors and felonies that are dismissed
  • Certain misdemeanors and felony charges that end in a not-guilty verdict

Since expungement will be automatic in these cases, you won’t file any paperwork.

Contact Randall & Stump, Criminal Defense Attorneys for Help

If you or a loved one might be eligible for expungement under North Carolina’s new rules, call Randall & Stump, Criminal Defense Attorneys. Our team will review your criminal record, help determine your eligibility for expungement, and advise you on the next steps.

Use our online form or call (980) 237-4579 to set up your free, no-risk consultation.

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