Much of the conversation at one of the first Juvenile Jurisdiction Advisory Committee meetings I attended centered on “doughnut hole” youth. The meeting participants were discussing the long pause between when raise the age legislation passed in June of 2017 until the time it would take effect in December of 2019. Many 16- and 17-year-old youth would continue to be convicted in criminal court for things that the legislature had already determined should be juvenile offenses for youth their age. Caught in between passage and implementation, these kids were in the “doughnut hole.” The legislature included a remedy for these youth, and many others, in the Second Chance Act (S562) that was ratified on June 17, 2020. Certain misdemeanor and Class H and I felony convictions for offenses committed before raise the age took effect and when the person was 16 or 17, can now be expunged. This new expunction opportunity is available to any person with an existing conviction from the age of 16 or 17 that would now fall under juvenile jurisdiction and not just the young people who were caught in the doughnut hole.
A short opinion issued recently by the Court of Appeals, State v. J.C., ___ N.C. App. ___ (Sept. 19, 2017), concerns two open questions about appellate review of a trial judge’s expunction decision. How can a party obtain appellate review? And, how can the person who petitions for an expunction make sure that the records of the appellate proceeding remain confidential? The Court’s opinion does not expressly address those issues, but the case provides guidance on both.
In S.L. 2017-195 (S 445), the General Assembly made several changes to North Carolina’s expunction laws. Most importantly, the act expands the availability of relief in two ways: it reduces the waiting period to expunge older nonviolent felony and misdemeanor convictions, and it allows a person to obtain an expunction of a dismissal regardless of whether the person received any prior expunctions. Because the act states that it applies to petitions filed on or after December 1, 2017, the revised statutes apply to offenses, charges, and convictions that occur before, on, or after December 1, 2017. The tradeoff for this expansion is that information about expunctions, maintained by the Administrative Office of the Courts and otherwise confidential, is available for review by the prosecutor and useable to calculate prior record level at sentencing if the person is convicted of a subsequent offense. This part of the act applies to expunctions granted on or after July 1, 2018. The act makes other changes to create more consistency and uniformity in the expunction process.
If you’ve been dragging your feet about having an old DWI expunged, you had better hurry up. A law enacted last week removes convictions for offenses involving impaired driving from the types of convictions that may be expunged. The change is effective for petitions filed or pending on or after December 1, 2015. So if you are eligible for such an expunction, your window of opportunity is closing fast. Read on to find about the other changes S.L. 2015-150 makes to the state’s DWI laws.
I have been working on a theory of everything . . . for expunctions. It’s a small corner of the criminal justice universe, but a critical one for people with past convictions. The subject can be maddeningly complex, at times a seemingly impenetrable black hole. I have been trying to master the mysteries of our expunction statutes in updating my 2012 Guide to Relief from a Criminal Conviction (which you can find here, but beware of subsequent changes in the law).
Without further physics puns, here’s one of the questions I’ve looked at: Can a person expunge a misdemeanor conviction under G.S. 15A-145.5 for driving while impaired (DWI)? As the statute is currently worded, the answer is yes.
A new guide on obtaining relief from a criminal conviction—Relief from a Criminal Conviction: A Digital Guide to Expunctions, Certificates of Relief, and Other Procedures in North Carolina—is now available from the School of Government. This online tool explains in one place the mechanisms available in North Carolina for obtaining relief from a criminal conviction, … Read more
I am sometimes asked if a conviction for which prayer for judgment has been continued (a PJC) can be expunged. It’s a sensible question, given—as I’ll discuss in a moment—that a PJC is treated like a conviction for most purposes in North Carolina. A person has virtually the same incentive to seek expungement of a … Read more