Expunction Law Expanded and Strengthened

NC Expunction law takes another giant step forward

Expunction, also known as expungement, is the legal term that describes the act of erasing evidence that someone has been either charged or convicted of a crime.

Expunction: the conviction eraser.

For example, if you were falsely accused of committing a crime and that charge was dismissed, you might wish to expunge that charge. Considering the potentially disastrous collateral consequences that folks face from even a naked accusation of having committed a crime, this can be an incredibly important tool. Imagine how a potential employer might make a decision between two applicants, one who has a clean record and one who was accused of taking indecent liberties with a child. Even though the charge might have been dismissed, who do you think is likely to get the job?

Until 2012, expunction was only available to people who were found not guilty or whose charges were dismissed (with the sole exception being for individuals under 18 years of age who were convicted of a single misdemeanor). Not only was it essentially limited to those cases where people were vindicated but it was also limited in that an individual could only benefit from one charge being expunged in their lifetime. Luckily the legislature really started to pay attention to these overly restrictive limitations on expungement in 2012.

It was in 2012 that the Legislature expanded expunction to include most low-level felony and misdemeanor convictions so long as the individual convicted managed to stay out of trouble for a full fifteen years. This change represented huge progress and a sea change in public opinion. People have started to recognize that the stigma of a minor criminal conviction need not last a lifetime. But there was still a problem, folks could only get one expungement. . . ever.

This was an absurd and illogical restriction. It meant that an accused couldn’t get a charge expunged even if they were accused of a crime that was determined to be due to mistaken identity and the charge was dismissed if they had ever had a previous expunction. It made no difference that they could not have committed the crime. It made no difference that the expunction they used may have been for something as minor as a dismissed charge of misdemeanor possession of marijuana. Until last week, that was the end of the story.

Last week Governor McCrory signed a bill into law that now makes expunction absolutely automatic in cases of mistaken identity. Not only is it automatic, it is also irrelevant whether the accused had a previous case expunged.  This now ensures that simply because someone is wrongfully accused, if it is due to mistaken identity, it will no longer linger on their record simply because they may have used an expungement in the past. This new law will allow countless individuals who are wrongfully accused to reclaim their lives.

This is progress. It is a good law for the people of NC and it will aid folks in moving past the excruciating consequences of a wrongful accusation. Let’s hope we can look forward to continued progress in this positive direction.