I sometimes get this question from judges, lawyers, and individuals seeking relief. The answer is: As many as the law allows. North Carolina’s statutes establish precise requirements for obtaining an expunction, including conditions barring relief. Many of the statutes specify that a prior expunction of an adult criminal proceeding bars a later expunction (more on juvenile proceedings below). Some statutes contain no such language, however. Under the terms of those statutes, a person with a prior expunction can obtain a later expunction if he or she meets the other requirements for relief. There is not a general prohibition on a subsequent expunction. Here are the principal statutes providing for this result.
Expunction under G.S. 15A-145 after expunction under G.S. 15A-146. Under G.S. 15A-145, a person may obtain an expunction of a misdemeanor conviction for an offense committed before age 18. (The statute also allows an expunction of certain alcohol offenses committed before age 21.) The statute contains various preconditions, such as the absence of other felony or misdemeanor convictions except for a traffic offense. The statute does not list a prior expunction as a bar to relief.
Under G.S. 15A-146, a person may obtain an expunction of a dismissal of criminal charges. This statute, in contrast to G.S. 15A-145, makes a prior expunction under various adult expunction statutes a bar to relief, but it does not make a prior misdemeanor conviction a bar.
Applying the statutes together, a person with a prior misdemeanor conviction can obtain an expunction of a dismissal under G.S. 15A-146 because that statute does not make the conviction a bar. The person then may obtain an expunction of a misdemeanor conviction under G.S. 15A-145 because that statute does not make a prior expunction a bar.
Expunction under G.S. 15A-145.5 after expunction under G.S. 15A-146. Under G.S. 15A-145.5, a person may obtain an expunction of a nonviolent misdemeanor or felony conviction, as defined in G.S. 15A-145.5, after fifteen years (for a discussion of the fifteen-year requirement, see Older Nonviolent Misdemeanor and Felony Convictions in Relief from a Criminal Conviction (UNC Sch. of Gov’t, 2015)). The statute bars an expunction if the person has received an expunction under any of the listed expunction statutes. An expunction of a dismissal under G.S. 15A-146 is not listed as a bar to relief.
Applying these statutes together, a person with a prior misdemeanor conviction can obtain an expunction of a dismissal under G.S. 15A-146. The person then may obtain an expunction of a nonviolent misdemeanor conviction under G.S. 15A-145.5 because that statute does not make a prior expunction under G.S. 15A-146 a bar.
Expunction under G.S. 15A-145.2 and G.S. 15A-145.3 after expunction under other statutes. Under G.S. 15A-145.2, a person may obtain an expunction of a conditional discharge, a dismissal, or a conviction of certain controlled substance and drug paraphernalia offenses committed before age 22. Under G.S. 15A-145.3, a person may obtain an expunction of those dispositions for certain toxic vapor and drug paraphernalia offenses committed before age 22. The prior expunction bar varies for each type of disposition to be expunged. For example, G.S. 15A-145.2(c) bars an expunction of a conviction of a controlled substance offense if the person has received a previous expunction under that subsection; it does not list any other expunctions as a bar. G.S. 15A-145.2(b), which allows expunction of a dismissal, contains no expunction bar.
Expunction under adult statutes after expunction under G.S. 7B-7200. Generally, expunction statutes that make a prior expunction a bar refer to particular adult expunction statutes. Thus, G.S. 15A-146 prohibits an expunction if the person has received an expunction under G.S. 15A-145, G.S. 15A-145.1, and several other adult expunction statutes. None of the statutes, however, refer specifically to G.S. 7B-3200, the statute providing for expunction of certain juvenile justice matters. Therefore, a person who received an expunction of a juvenile justice matter should still be able to obtain an expunction of an adult matter in most instances.
A possible exception concerns G.S. 15A-145.4, which authorizes an expunction of an adult conviction of a nonviolent misdemeanor committed before age 18 if “the petitioner has not been previously granted an expunction.” (G.S. 15A-145.6, which authorizes expunction of prostitution offenses, contains similar general language.) It is unclear whether this language makes prior expunctions of juvenile justice matters a bar to relief or whether it was intended to refer only to expunctions of adult proceedings. For a further discussion of this issue, see Expunctions of Delinquency Matters in Relief from a Criminal Conviction (UNC Sch. of Gov’t, 2015).
A clear but narrow path to relief. Prior expunction bars and other conditions make it difficult for a person to obtain relief more than once. They do not impose a blanket prohibition on additional relief, however. The terms of each statute control whether a person can obtain an expunction. While the statutes create a narrow path to additional relief, they clearly allow it in some instances.