Sometimes people can overcome regrettable pasts, at least when it comes to criminal offenses or accusations.
Laws governing record sealing and expungement—which conceal or destroy public records of legal incidents—vary from state to state, with North Carolina allowing latitude for people accused and cleared of any crime or convicted of various misdemeanors or low-level felonies.
What Is Expungement?
In most states, sealing public records means removing the paper or electronic files from public view, while expungement means destroying the files. North Carolina calls the process it permits "expungement," even though an official file is maintained at Administrative Office of the Courts. That is because people are limited to one expungement in their lifetime; records must be maintained so officials can check requests to make sure no previous record removals have been granted.
The expunged information, however, is accessible only to state judges. The general public cannot view the records, and employers or landlords conducting screenings will not have access to the information, either. Individuals whose records have been expunged legally are permitted to answer "no" when asked about criminal records.
Who Is Eligible for Expungement?
North Carolina gives the broadest leeway to individuals whose cases were dismissed or to those who were acquitted, and they often are granted expungement of DNA records as well as of arrest and court document. Younger offenders also have a lot of eligibility leeway, too, including:
- People under 21 at the time of drug offenses
- People who committed misdemeanors or non-violent felonies before turning 18
- Those who were convicted of gang-related offenses before turning 17
It is possible for older adults to have non-violent crimes expunged, though there is a 15-year waiting period. Records of sex-related crimes and serious drug offenses and major felonies are not eligible for alteration.
How Do I Obtain Expungement?
The process begins with figuring out if the offense is eligible for expungement. The official application gives a general outline of what is possible, though a local attorney's legal knowledge can be immensely helpful in dealing with specifics.
Next, complete the application and file in the court that handled the case in the county in which the incident occurred. The application requires information such as case number, date of arrest, description of the offense, date of the offense, date of disposition and the disposition.
The court then will forward the application to various agencies, including the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation and possibly the county's prosecuting attorney as well. Once those investigations are complete, all information will be forwarded to the judge in the county where the request was filed and the request will be ready for a hearing to determine whether the expungement will be granted. If the request is approved, the judge will send an order to all courts and police agencies that hold records about the case, as well as to any other agencies that might have information, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles or the Division of Adult Correction.
Unlike many states in which an official pardon merely forgives the crime, North Carolina allows "pardons of innocence" for individuals later determined to be innocent. Such pardons, while exceedingly rare, erase the incident and allow the individual to apply for expungement.
A "pardon of clemency," on the other hand, does not declare the individual innocent and does not pave the way for expungement. It does, however, permit other types of actions that, while not expunging the record, do allow restoration of certain civil liberties such as firearms rights.
Seeking Legal Counsel
North Carolina expungement procedures can be complicated. A local attorney can help determine eligibility and assist with the legal process for filing.