RALEIGH (November 30, 2017) — Beginning December 1, more North Carolinians will be able to expunge certain criminal records that give rise to severe barriers to employment, housing, and other essential opportunities.

On July 28 Governor Roy Cooper signed into law Senate Bill 445, a bipartisan measure that allows most people to expunge all criminal charges that do not result in convictions and reduces how long a person must wait to expunge a first-time nonviolent misdemeanor or felony conviction. Specifically, Senate Bill 445:

  • Reduces the wait period for expunction of a first-time nonviolent misdemeanor from 15 years to five years.
  • Reduces the wait period for expunction of a first-time nonviolent felony from 15 years to 10 years.
  • Provides for expunction of all charges that are dismissed or disposed “not guilty” as long the person has not been convicted of a felony offense.
  • Makes several improvements to the expunction process, including standardizing the filing procedures across all jurisdictions and ensuring all relevant state agencies and petitioners receive and enforce expunction orders.
  • Provides prosecutors access to most criminal records expunged under the new law

In North Carolina, the expunction of a criminal record returns an individual to the status he or she held before the charge or conviction occurred. Once expunged, an individual may truthfully deny the charge or conviction ever occurred in most circumstances. There are exceptions, including for purposes of federal immigration. SB 445 does not expand expunction eligibility to include multiple convictions disposed in separate court sessions or change the types of convictions considered “nonviolent.”

For more information on the changes to expunction eligibility and procedures, see the UNC School of Government’s overview and the 2018 Summary of North Carolina Expunctions.

SB 445 was sponsored by Senators Tommy Tucker (R-Union), Angela Bryant (D-Halifax, Nash, Vance, Warren, Wilson), Floyd McKissick (D-Durham, Granville), Danny Britt (R-Columbus, Robeson), Erica Smith-Ingram (D-Bertie, Chowan, Edgecombe, Hertford, Martin, Northampton, Tyrrell, Washington), and Tarry Van Duyn (D-Buncombe), and carried through the House by Representatives John Faircloth (R- Guilford), Sarah Stevens (R-Surry, Wilkes), Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson), Robert Reives (D-Chatham, Lee), and Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford). The bill passed the House 103-2 and the Senate 47-0.

“The criminal justice system should not end in incarceration; it should end in restoration,” Cooper said at the signing ceremony. “We have to take affirmative steps to make sure that re-entry into society is successful, not only because it’s the right thing to do, the moral thing to do, but it’s the safe thing to do for our communities.

“We are excited to celebrate these new laws for the positive impacts they will have in the lives of tens of thousands of individuals and families across our state,” said Daniel Bowes, attorney for the NC Justice Center’s Second Chance Initiative. “But our ultimate goal is for men and women with criminal records to have a fair chance at gainful employment, safe and affordable housing, school admission, and other essential opportunities without having to hide their criminal records.”

At the bill’s signing, Corey Purdie, a member of the NC Second Chance Alliance who advocated in support of the bill, said: “Though this bill does not include someone like myself who has multiple felony convictions from a life I left behind more than 20 years ago, it is a huge victory and I am grateful for my brothers and sisters whose lives will be rewarded by this great day.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT Bill Rowe, NC Justice Center General Counsel, bill@ncjustice.org or (919) 856-2177.