James HowellStaff Writerjhowell@heartlandpublications.com
December 6, 2012
A new law approved by the N.C. General Assembly will now allow adults of all ages the opportunity to clear their records of non-violent criminal convictions and the hope that past mistakes won’t haunt them for a lifetime.
This new law will “greatly expand the scope of what can be expunged. It also widens the scope of the ages that can expunge an offense from their record,” said local attorney John Kilby from the Kilby & Hurley law office,
The new “expungement law” allows for the removal of first-time, non-violent misdemeanors and low-level felony convictions. It went into effect on Dec. 1 after it was signed into law on July 16.
According to a release from the N.C. Department of Justice, in order for a North Carolina resident to cleanse their record, they may petition the court at least 15 years after the conviction date or after their sentence, probation or supervision has concluded.
“If eligible, an individual must demonstrate he or she possesses good moral character and has been on good behavior throughout the 15-year waiting period,” said the release.
Kilby said individuals may need to submit affidavits and testimonies to demonstrate they have been on good behavior.
If the petition is successful, the petitioner’s record will be cleansed, both in court and law enforcement records, according to the N.C. Justice Center.
However, some non-violent offenses may not be purged from a criminal record, including certain sex-related or stalking offenses, those involving methamphetamine, heroin or possession with intent to sell or deliver cocaine, and non-violent crimes containing an element of assault, said the release.
“This new law is a measured but historic response to the heavy burden of collateral consequences weighing down the 1.6 million North Carolinians with criminal records-consequences that often follow individuals throughout their personal and professional lives, and can have a more devastating effect than their actual criminal punishments,” said Daniel Bowes, a staff attorney with the N.C. Justice Center, in a press release.
“Although this law is not perfect, it will make a huge difference in the lives of tens of thousands of eligible individuals across the state,” said Bowes, in the release.
A woman from the local area, who preferred to remain anonymous, said she has felt the consequences of having a criminal charge place on her record.
The woman said while she was working for a family-owned company in Greensboro, the owner’s instructed her to sign his name on checks, and keep track of the company’s petty cash receipts.
After the woman was let go in favor of the owner’s stepdaughter, the company brought a lawsuit against her, claiming she embezzled over $4,000. Even though she said she could have won her case, she was given legal advice to plead a no contest to avoid jail time.
This ruling has had a chilling effect on the woman’s life for the next 20 years.
“This March will make 20 years this charge has been held over my head. It has taken several job opportunities away from me,” she said.
The woman said she plans to submit a petition to remove the embezzlement charge so she would have a “clean record to fall back on.”
“When the law takes effect, North Carolina will become one of a handful of states providing opportunities for expunction to individuals with nonviolent misdemeanor and felony convictions. Laws in these states typically require a waiting period of between 5 and 10 years before an expunction may be granted,” said the N.C. Justice Center’s website.
According to information from the N.C. Justice Center, “95 percent of incarcerated individuals will eventually leave prison and return home.”
Also, “92 percent of employers conduct criminal background checks; an applicant with a criminal record is 50 percent less likely to receive a call back.”
The center also says “more than 900 state and federal laws deny North Carolinians a wide range of privileges and rights based on a criminal record.”
“We’ve had expungement laws before, but they were fairly restrictive. These changes will be significant and hopefully, the new law will help a lot of people,” said Kilby.