Once upon a time in the North Carolina courts, a prayer for judgment continued (PJC) could have a positive impact on a person’s future. Essentially, the prosecution would pray—that is, move—for entry of judgment, and the judge would continue the prayer and withhold judgment rather than granting the prayer and entering judgment. See State v. Griffin, 246 N.C. 680 (1957) (discussing procedure). Older cases recognized that a judge’s exercise of his or her authority to defer judgment in the interest of justice did not constitute a conviction. A PJC was thus treated like a prosecutor’s exercise of discretion in deferring prosecution. The deferral not only avoided imposition of sentence in the criminal case; it also meant that the matter did not count as a conviction in later, collateral proceedings. See Barbour v. Scheidt, 246 N.C. 169 (1957) (discussing treatment of PJCs). The Court of Appeals’ February 18, 2020 decision in Mace v. North Carolina Dept. of Insurance provides a reminder that times have changed and a PJC usually provides no protection from the collateral consequences of a conviction.
In recent years North Carolina has made several reforms in the field of collateral consequences, expanding opportunities for expunctions of convictions, authorizing courts to issue certificates of relief to limit collateral consequences, and requiring that licensing agencies consider whether a nexus exists between applicants’ criminal conduct and their prospective duties, among other factors. See G.S. 93B-8.1. The changes are helpful but incremental. Our most recent criminal justice class challenged the extensive reliance on collateral consequences in the U.S., the effectiveness of current remedies, and ultimately barriers to reintegration into society of people who have previously been convicted of a crime.
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to participate in a national roundtable, sponsored by the American Law Institute and National Conference of State Legislatures, on current and possible approaches to relieving the consequences of a criminal conviction. We considered three basic approaches: “forgetting” convictions by expunging them or limiting access to information about them; “forgiving” convictions through, among other things, certificates of relief, also known as certificates of rehabilitation; and “forgoing” convictions by diverting matters before conviction or decriminalizing them altogether. In its recently-completed legislative session, the North Carolina General Assembly expanded the forgiveness approach by making it easier to get a certificate of relief. Read on for more about this relatively new relief mechanism. If you’re interested in approaches elsewhere, the papers submitted by the various scholars and practitioners invited to the roundtable were recently published in the Federal Sentencing Reporter, available here. You can read my paper about North Carolina here.
At long last I have completed the 2015 edition of my online guide to relief from a criminal conviction. This free guide, available here on the School of Government’s website, covers the various forms of relief available under North Carolina law, including expunctions, certificates of relief, and other procedures. It includes changes made by the General Assembly through the end of its 2015 legislative session.