Last night, the North Carolina General Assembly passed Senate Bill 445 with overwhelming bipartisan support, significantly expanding access to expunction relief for North Carolinians with first-time nonviolent convictions and charges not resulting in convictions.
We commend state lawmakers across party lines for continuing to restore opportunities to individuals with criminal records striving to be prosperous, law-abiding community members. We especially want to thank Senators Tommy Tucker, Floyd McKissick, Angela Bryant, Danny Britt, Jr., Jeff Jackson, Erica Smith-Ingram, and Terry Van Duyn, as well as Representatives John Faircloth, Chuck McGrady, Sarah Stevens, Robert Reives II, and Pricey Harrison, for their ardent support for this bill.
A number of legislators over the years have tried to increase opportunities for individuals who have done the “right thing,” but two deserve special recognition for their efforts during the 2015-2016 legislative session pushing for similar bills to SB 445 – former Representative Leo Daughtry and former Senator Fletcher Hartsell. The support of NC Department of Public Safety Chief Deputy Secretary David Guice was also crucial to the bill’s passage as was the endorsement of the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys.
In North Carolina, the expunction of a criminal record returns an individual to the status he or she held before the charge or conviction. Once expunged, an individual may truthfully deny the charge or conviction ever occurred in most circumstances. Senate Bill 445 reduced the wait times for expunction of a first-time nonviolent misdemeanor or felony from 15 years to 5 years for a misdemeanor and 10 years for a felony. The bill also provides for expunction of all dismissed and not guilty charges as long as an individual has not been convicted of a felony. Senate Bill 445 makes several improvements to the expunction process, including standardizing the filing procedures across all jurisdictions and ensuring all relevant state agencies and petitioners receive certified copies of the expunction orders. Prosecutors will have access to most expunged records and may treat a conviction expunged after 7/1/18 as a prior record for sentencing purposes if an individual reoffends.
Senate Bill 445 was supported by the NC Second Chance Alliance, a statewide alliance of men and women with criminal records, their families, congregations, reentry service providers, and other residents committed to expanding opportunities for formerly incarcerated North Carolinians.
In recent years, the General Assembly has taken several meaningful steps to reduce barriers to reentry and thereby make our communities more safe, fair, and prosperous. In last week’s budget, for example, state legislators raised the minimum age of criminal prosecution to 18 for misdemeanor and low-level felonies, thereby redirecting thousands of children each year from the criminal justice system to the juvenile justice system. The budget also established a state reentry council to examine the needs of individuals with criminal records.
Finally, an excellent complement to expunctions is “certificates of relief,” which should be expanded beyond first-time convictions to restore employment, housing, and other essential opportunities for individuals with multiple misdemeanors and low-level felonies. House Bill 671 Expand Certificate of Relief passed the Judiciary II Committee earlier this month with strong bipartisan support. This bill 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, specifically individuals with multiple convictions for misdemeanor and up to Class G felony offenses. Unlike an expunction, a certificate of relief does not obscure or change the criminal record itself. Instead, a certificate addresses a broad range of civil disabilities imposed by the state of North Carolina and shields employers, landlords, and other decision makers from the risk of certain types of negligence liability, thereby making it more likely these decisions makers will hire, rent to, or otherwise grant an opportunity to a certificate holder. Click here for a fact sheet on H671.
In order to responsibly restore essential opportunities for prosperous, law-abiding citizenship to men and women striving to move beyond bad periods in their lives that resulted in multiple convictions, the NC Justice Center and members of the NC Second Chance Alliance will continue to urge legislators to pass HB 671 in the final days of this legislative session.