Gov. Roy Cooper on Friday signed into a law a measure that changes the process by which criminal records are expunged in the state, making it easier for some to get their records cleared.
The law standardizes the petition to get past criminal convictions cleaned off of a record, if a person qualifies, and also reduces the waiting time for expungement of first-time nonviolent felonies from 15 years to 10 years and only five years for a nonviolent misdemeanor.
The law also eliminates the restriction on obtaining multiple expungements when prior charges were dismissed or the person was acquitted in court.
The bill is set to become active law in December and will apply to petitions filed from Dec. 1 forward but much of the bill regarding access to expunctions does not become active until July of 2018.
“The criminal justice system should not end in incarceration. It should end in restoration,” Cooper said. “This effort helps them lead productive lives, which is the right and moral thing to do. But at the same time, it’s the safe thing to do for our community.”
But just because a record has been expunged does not meant that the record does not still exist within the state government, and is still searchable under certain circumstances.
The Administrative Office of the Courts maintains a confidential file of expunged records that can only be accessed by a judge for the purpose of ascertaining whether a person charged with an offense has been previously granted a discharge of expunction, by the person who has received the expunction, in response to certain subpoenas, by state or local law enforcement if the expungement was for employment purposes, by the North Carolina Criminal Justice Education and Training Standards Commission if the record was expunged for certification purposes only, by the North Carolina Sheriff’s Standards Commission if the record was expunged for certification purposes only and by a district attorney in accordance with state law governing expunction, which is part of the bill.
Under the bill, prosecutors’ access to expunged files is regulated by certain thresholds and also requires that the courts make all confidential files maintained under that section electronically available to all prosecutors of the state if the criminal record was expunged on or after July 1, 2018.
The law does allow for expunged records, that were cleared on or after July 1, 2018, to be used to calculate prior record level if the named person is convicted of a subsequent criminal offense.
Prior record level is used in sentencing to determine the length or severity of a sentence.
Before the bill was passed, in some instances who had access to expunged records was not as clearly defined and only the intention with which the files could be accessed was spelled out in the law.