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Certificate of Relief from Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Conviction

August 8th, 2011
By John Rubin

In 2010, the Uniform Law Commission (also known as the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws) adopted the Uniform Collateral Consequence of Conviction Act to assist states in developing strategies for addressing the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction. Collateral consequences are effects that generally are not imposed as part of a criminal sentence but arise as a result of the criminal conviction and in many instances continue long after the person completes his or her sentence. North Carolina and other states impose a wide range of collateral consequences, such as licensing and employment bars and benefit disqualifications, for criminal convictions.

In the uniform act, the Uniform Law Commission recommended that states allow ex-offenders to apply for relief, according to specified criteria, from collateral consequences that could impede their ability to reintegrate into society. Effective December 1, 2011, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted such a procedure in new Article 6 of G.S. Chapter 15A (G.S. 15A-173.1 through 15A-173.6), allowing certain ex-offenders to apply to the court for a certificate of relief from collateral consequences. See S.L. 2011-265 (H 641). The North Carolina act is more limited than the uniform act, but it allows ex-offenders convicted of lower level felonies and misdemeanors to obtain some relief. Because the act does not contain any limiting language on the effective date of December 1, 2011, the procedure is available to ex-offenders who meet the requirements for relief whether their offenses or convictions occurred before or after that date.

The basic requirements for relief, contained in new G.S. 15A-173.2, are as follows:

  1. The person must have been convicted of no more than two Class G, H, or I felonies or misdemeanors in one session of court and have no other convictions for a felony or misdemeanor other than a traffic violation.
  2. The person must petition the court in which the convictions occurred—specifically, the senior resident superior court judge if the convictions were in superior court and the chief district court judge if the convictions were in district court. These judges may delegate their authority to hold hearings and issue, modify, or revoke certificates of relief to other judges or to clerks or magistrates in their district. The procedure for the filing and hearing of the petition, such as the giving of notice to the district attorney’s office, is described in new G.S. 15A-173.4. See also G.S. 15A-173.6 (requiring the victim witness coordinator in the district attorney’s office to give notice of the petition to the victim).
  3. The person must establish certain matters by a preponderance of the evidence, including that twelve months have passed since the person completed his or her sentence, that the person is engaged in or is seeking to engage in a lawful occupation or activity, and that the person has no criminal charges pending.

If granted, a certificate of relief applies to two types of collateral consequences: “collateral sanctions,” defined as a penalty, disability, or disqualification imposed by operation of law, such as a mandatory bar on obtaining a license for a particular occupation; and “disqualifications,” defined as a penalty that an agency, official, or court may impose based on the conviction, such as a discretionary bar on an occupational license. A certificate of relief relieves the person of all automatic “collateral sanctions” except for those listed in new G.S. 15A-173.3 (for example, sex offender registration requirements and firearm disqualifications); those imposed by the North Carolina Constitution or federal law (for example, the state constitutional ban on holding the office of sheriff if previously convicted of a felony and the federal bans on federally-assisted housing and food stamp benefits for certain convictions); and those specifically excluded in the certificate. A certificate of relief does not bar an entity from imposing a discretionary “disqualification” based on the conviction, but the entity may consider the certificate favorably in deciding whether to impose the disqualification. A certificate of relief also does not result in an expunction or pardon of the conviction; a person must use other mechanisms, if available for the conviction in question, to obtain those forms of relief.

Through a grant from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, the indigent defense education group at the UNC School of Government is developing a searchable, electronic database, specific to North Carolina, of the collateral consequences of criminal convictions. This collateral consequences assessment tool (C-CAT) will be available in early 2012. The database will assist people in identifying the collateral consequences that apply to different types of convictions and the potential relief available under the new certificate-of-relief procedure. For additional information about C-CAT, contact Whitney Fairbanks, Civil Defender Educator at the School of Government.

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16 Responses to “Certificate of Relief from Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Conviction”

  1. i have had two misdemeanor charges in nc. 2002-resisting officer and 2006-disorderly conduct. can i file for a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities for the 2006 conviction/

    • John Rubin says:

      The certificate of relief statute cannot be used to obtain relief from a conviction if the applicant has a second conviction from another session of court. For more information, see the School’s new Relief from a Criminal Conviction Guide, available at http://www.sog.unc.edu/node/2588.

  2. josline says:

    i was covicted of a class E felony of Child Abuse ISI in 2004. this felony has kep me from trying to become the nurse that i want to become is this the right form for me to fill out?

  3. Mitzi Turner says:

    I am working with individuals who are seeking employment, but have criminal record barriers. Can you tell me if there is any data available to indicate the success or usefulness of this process?
    Thank you.

  4. yortavin teele says:

    At 15 years old I received a class g felony fleeing, march 2005, and also a misdemeanor assault in jan 2005. Would I be eligible to receive a certificate?

  5. John Smith says:

    in 1985 I was convicted of for selling 1/4oz of marijuana when I was 17 and was given a felony. In 2010 I had a charge of communicating threats, but it was discharged as a prayer for judgement. My wife is a police officer and tonight someone was waiting for her after work. Since I was picking her up I became a target. I have no way to protect myself and I am VERY concerned with my safety now. Do I have any options, or am I just dentin to be a violent crime statistic?

  6. David Camby says:

    I have a felony drug conviction. Did federal time and was first time offender. Will this apply to me?
    Is this for expungement so I can own a firearm ?
    Got my charge in 97 got out in 2005 … And finished probation in 2010
    No other trouble besides driving record

  7. Sacon M James says:

    I was convicted in Alamance county of possession of marijuana a misdemeanor 2006 paid my fines case disposed of

    2008 I was arrested in person county for possession of a controlled substance, convicted in 2010 of a class I felony can I still apply for a certificate of relief?

  8. Cindy Watts says:

    I am writing to find out if this or anything will help my son. When he was 21, he decided to find out if he could successfully shoplift a game. He couldn’t. He certainly did not want me to find out. Therefore, he went to court on his own, pled quilty, and paid the fine. He is about to turn 26. This has haunted him ever since that time. When applying for a job, he has to check the box about ever had a conviction and is told he can’t go any further. This young man has never done anything else illegal. Can somebody help. Although I do not agree with what my son did, how long does one have to pay for being stupid.

  9. J says:

    My husband is having a hard time finding a job. He was laid off 9/13/13. He has two felonies 22 and 24 years ago, he was 18 and 19 years old. This t is still coming up today. I have always told him to be honest and put it down because later on you don’t want this to be brought back up later. So with being honest every temporary service has turned him down. We live in a small city where you know everybody and with that being said, he see people that also have felonies working for companies and when he apply his felonies are brought up. Can we please get answers?

  10. Richie Rich says:

    Cindy and J:

    Since admitting convictions basically assures a negative response, you might as well increase your odds: It is not a crime to say NO if asked about previous convictions ( barring some government applications or forms clearly marked as being sworn documents ) and so you roll the dice and hope that you make such a good impression that the company decides to save the fee paid for background checks and simply hires you.

    Your odds just went from virtually nil to about 30% , maybe even more but with todays technology only the smaller firms and family busineses might neglect a thorough review of claimed history…but 30% is better than zero, so why not answer NO when asked and hope for the best? At worst you lose a job you have had a chance to impress the boss so much that maybe a late admision of a rascally youth will save your hide….maybe not…but in any event when you need a job desperately the least sin is to give yourself every advantage, even if it means taking a chance…nothing ventured….

  11. Terrence Jones says:

    Hello my name is Terrence Jones and ive been trying to get information on the certificate of relief from disabilities or trying to apply for it i haven’t had any luck im praying that you can help me i have a conviction for 2004 that is standing in the way of me applying for the sherrifs department here in charlotte nc i pray to god that you can get me enrolled in the program or get the certificate for me please help.

  12. evette Miller says:

    I had a certificate of relief granted to me in October of 2013, I was told by an attorney that it would be hidden from my records, but it would take up to 2 to 3 months. It has been 3 months, and it still shows up on my record.

  13. George Alexander says:

    Can a person convicted of statutory rape qualify for a certificate of relief from disabilities?

  14. D. Evans says:

    My husband was convicted in 1993 and served 5 years for armed robbery/kidnapping. Since his release he has had steady employment for 15 years with a company as a CNA. However, he is getting older and is finding it difficult to care for the heavier patients. He has tried to get other jobs in the same field with other companies but is always denied. Is he eligible for relief?

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