Having a criminal record can have consequences long after the formal punishment for the crime is over. It can affect your ability to get a job, to get into school, and to live where you want to live. A new expungement law went into effect in North Carolina on December 1, 2017. It lowered the wait times for expunging non-violent misdemeanors and felonies. A qualified North Carolina lawyer can help you determine if you are eligible to have your record expunged, and handle the process for you.

What are the changes in the new expungement law?

  • Misdemeanor convictions can now be expunged after five years, instead of fifteen.

  • Felony convictions can now be expunged after ten years, instead of fifteen.

  • The number of dismissals that can be expunged is now unlimited.

  • Law enforcement will have access to expunged records, but not the public.

What is the process to get an expungement?

If you are eligible for an expungement, the first step is to file a “petition for expunction” in the clerk’s office of the county where you were charged. The form of the petition depends on things like your age, the type of charges, and the outcome of the charges. For example, there is a different form if you are seeking to expunge charges that were dismissed as opposed to charges on which you were convicted. You may also need to pay a filing fee and support your petition with affidavits. An affidavit is a written statement signed by someone who knows you, who swears you have good moral character. When the petition and any necessary affidavits are ready the next step is to appear in court to have the petition signed by a judge. This is just to begin the process of expungement; it does not mean the expungement will ultimately be granted.

Once the petition is signed it will be mailed by the clerk to the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI), which will search for your criminal records in North Carolina and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The SBI will send all of the records it finds to the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), which will consider whether you have any prior expungements that affect your eligibility for another expungement. The AOC sends a report of its findings back to the clerk’s office where you first filed your petition. This part of the process can take six months or even longer.

When the AOC has returned its findings to the clerk, the last step is to present the petition in court for the judge to determine whether to grant the expungement. If the court concludes you are eligible for an expungement and the district attorney does not have any objections, the judge can order your records expunged without a formal hearing. However, if there is a question about your eligibility or if the district attorney has an objection, then a formal hearing will be held. Following that hearing, the court will either grant or deny the petition.

What happens after the judge orders an expungement?

The clerk will send notice of the expungement to whatever agency arrested you, to the Division of Motor Vehicles (if applicable), to any state or local agency identified in the petition as having a record of the expunged charges, and to the Department of Public Safety. Any of these state agencies that sell criminal records to private entities will be required to instruct those entities to destroy any records of the expunged charges. The clerk will also notify the and the FBI of the expungement. Those agencies are allowed to keep records of the expungement, but they will not be available to the public. This part of the process might not be complete for as long as a year after the petition was filed.

Can I get an expungement without a lawyer?

There is no requirement to use a lawyer for an expungement. That being said, it is a technical and exacting process. You have to analyze which law to proceed under, choose the right form, fill out the form exactly right, and attend court at least twice where you need to know what you’re doing. If you mess up any part of the process your petition could be denied, or it will cause a major delay. This process can take a year if everything goes perfectly. If anything does not go perfectly, you could be looking at much longer.

If you have old charges or convictions and think you might be eligible for an expungement, you should contact a qualified North Carolina lawyer today. A criminal record in North Carolina will never go away on its own. It will come up in background checks and can affect your ability to get a job, rent an apartment, or be admitted to school. An expungement is worth looking into even if you think your record hasn’t affected you yet. The process can take a year, so it’s important not to wait!

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