RALEIGH (Sept. 17, 2020) — Less than three months after the Second Chance Act was signed into law, a bipartisan group of district attorneys has committed to expunging more than 75,000 felony and misdemeanor convictions committed by teenagers. North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley indicated that 400,000 convictions across the state qualify for prosecutor-initiated expunction of youthful convictions.
District attorneys representing nine counties throughout the state — Mecklenburg, Orange, Chatham, Robeson, Durham, New Hanover, Pender, Rockingham, and Caswell counties — have filed or will file motions to expunge criminal convictions using a provision in the newly-passed, bipartisan Second Chance Act (Senate Bill 562), which allows prosecutors to petition the courts for mandatory expunctions of convictions for felony and misdemeanor offenses committed at age 16 or 17 and prior to December 1, 2019, and which, if committed today, would be treated as a juvenile offense.
“These prosecutor-initiated expunctions are the first of their kind in the country and crucial for expanding access to meaningful expunction relief to North Carolinians, especially people of color, who have suffered the severe collateral consequences of having youthful convictions,” said Daniel Bowes, director of the Fair Chance Criminal Justice project at the North Carolina Justice Center. “People with convictions often face unfair and extreme difficulties securing housing and employment for years and even decades after their criminal justice involvement. Passage of the Second Chance Act and this DA-led effort to maximize the impact of criminal record expungement of youthful convictions is a step in the right direction, helping to ensure people who are striving to move beyond their criminal justice involvement have access to opportunities for prosperity.”
“A lot of progress has been made in the justice system, and I’m proud to have some small part in having a significant impact on the lives of people,” said District Attorney Jason Ramey (R-Rockingham, Caswell), who is filing petitions for expunction of more than 6,000 convictions. “These expunctions are simply the right thing to do. If the current law on juveniles were in place when these individuals were charged, there would be nothing to expunge because juvenile records are not public records. The legislature wisely raised the juvenile age to 18 because we now understand that the brains of juveniles are not fully developed, so they shouldn’t be forced to have lifelong consequences for irresponsible decisions made during their youth.”
Ramey further explained how his role as District Attorney enables him to assist individuals with youthful convictions. “The individuals whose records are being expunged could file these themselves, but it would cost $175 dollars to do so, not counting any additional attorney fees,” he said. “Thankfully, I can file these for them for free and that is what I am going to do.”
Senator Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) was a crucial supporter of the Second Chance Act along with the bill’s primary sponsors, Senator Danny Britt (R-Robeson, Columbus), Senator Warren Daniel (R-Avery, Burke, Caldwell), and former Senator Floyd McKissick (D-Durham). The North Carolina Justice Center’s Fair Chance Criminal Justice project has worked extensively on expunction relief and other second chance issues, convening a range of stakeholders and advocating for policies that create a fair criminal justice system from arrest to re-entry.
For more information on the Second Chance Act and other criminal justice reforms, please visit ncsecondchance.org.