RALEIGH (June 26, 2018) — Due to rare bipartisan cooperation, on June 15, the General Assembly expanded access to Certificates of Relief, passing HB 774 by unanimous votes in both the NC House and Senate. Yesterday, Governor Cooper signed the bill into law, which will go into effect on December 1, 2018, and apply to petitions filed on or after that date.
This bill, for which members of the NC Second Chance Alliance fiercely advocated during several legislative sessions, provides judges the discretion to reduce civil barriers to employment, housing, and other essential resources by issuing certificates of relief to significantly more individuals that are currently in need.
HB 774 was successful because people with criminal records walked the halls of the North Carolina legislative building and described their struggles to find employment, housing, and other basic opportunities to their lawmakers. Their voices were supported and uplifted by a coalition of impacted family members, civil rights and racial justice advocates, congregations, employers, law enforcement officials, and state and local elected officials asking state legislators to restore basic economic opportunities by replacing automatic exclusions with individualized and fair assessments. (Learn more about barriers to employment triggered by criminal records and the impact on recidivism in the June 2018 report of the North Carolina Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission.)
A bipartisan group of legislators were responsive to this human need as well as the opportunity to reduce recidivism by restoring opportunities for prosperity, including Senators Shirley Randleman, Warren Daniel, Floyd McKissick, Tamara Barringer, and Brent Jackson, and Representatives John Faircloth, Chuck McGrady, Sara Stevens, John Hardister, and Pricey Harrison.
Unlike an expunction, the certificate does not obscure or change the criminal record itself. Instead, it addresses a broad range of civil disabilities imposed by the state and shields employers, landlords, and other decision makers from the risk of certain types of negligence liability, making it more likely these decisions makers will hire, rent to, or otherwise grant an opportunity to a certificate holder. The new law will expand certificate of relief eligibility to people with multiple misdemeanor and low-level felony convictions. Current eligibility is one incident of up to two convictions of a Class G, H, or I felony or misdemeanor. H774 expands eligibility to people with up to three incidents of Class H and I felony convictions and an unlimited number of misdemeanor convictions. According to this report, 92 percent of all criminal convictions last year are potentially eligible for relief, including a majority of felony convictions.
A long-term goal of the NC Justice Center and NC Second Chance Alliance is to provide a judge discretion to issue a certificate of relief to any individual reentering society and able to satisfy the requirements of the statutes and convince a judge to issue the certificate. A court of original conviction may issue a certificate of relief if all of the following criteria are satisfied: (a) 12 months have passed since the individual completed his or her sentence; (b) the individual is engaged in, or seeking to engage in, a lawful occupation; (c) the individual has complied with all requirements of his or her sentence; (d) a criminal charge is not pending against the individual; and (e) issuing the certificate would not pose a risk to the safety or welfare of the public or any individual.
Based on the experiences of other states, we believe certificates of relief will meaningfully improve the employment prospects for certificate holders and improve community safety.