Expunction / Expungement: Cleaning Up a Criminal Record

Whether you call it an expunction or expungement (they are used interchangeably), the process by which one can wipe their criminal record clean is a great tool and one that may prove very worthwhile. Having a criminal record can affect potential employment and educational opportunities and can have implications on eligibility for governmental programs and immigration.

In North Carolina, an expunction is the process of erasing a criminal record by court order. North Carolina General Statutes Chapter 15A 145-153 explains the situations in which a person may be eligible for an expunction. In short, expunctions are most commonly limited to the following situations:

  • A charge that has been voluntarily dismissed, deferred dismissed, or returned “not guilty”
  • A first-time, nonviolent offense that was committed more than 15 years ago
  • A first-time offense that was committed before reaching the age of 18 or 22 (depending on offense)

Although there are a few other very narrow scenarios in which an expunction may be appropriate, these are the three categories that are most frequently used. Category (1) above is typically used to erase a “charge/offense” from ones record. Even though there was no conviction and the charge may have been dismissed or disposed of as “not guilty,” the criminal record will still show that the person was “charged” with the alleged offense.

For category (2) above, any crime is considered “nonviolent” except: a Class A-G felony or a Class A1 misdemeanor; an offense that includes assault as an essential element; an offense that requires registration pursuant to Article 27A of NCGS; sex-related or stalking offenses; any felony offense in Chapter 90 involving methamphetamines, heroin, or possession with intent to sell and deliver cocaine; an offense under 14-12.12-.14; an offense under 14-401.16; and any felony in which a commercial vehicle was used in the commission of the offense.

Some additional requirements to be eligible for expunction under category (2) above include that at least 15 years have passed since the date of conviction, the petitioner has had no previous expunctions, the petitioner has completed his/her sentence, and that the petitioner has no pending criminal cases.

Finally, for category (3) above, several first-time offenses may be eligible for expunction as long as they were committed before the individual reached the age of 18 or 22 (depending on the offense). Non-felony convictions that occurred before the petitioner was 18 may be eligible. Certain misdemeanor convictions before the person reached 18 are eligible. Misdemeanor possession of alcohol convictions before the person reached 21 are eligible. Many different misdemeanor drug convictions that occur before the person reaches the age of 22 are eligible as well.

There are a host of other issues that should be considered when filing the expunction petition. In certain instances, you may be able to expunge more than one offense on the same petition. There are different petitions that must be used depending on how you qualify for an expunction. Also, each county has different procedures for how to file the petition, have it signed by a judge, mail it off to the SBI, and then schedule a return hearing once the petition comes back.

As you can tell, determining whether or not a person may be eligible for an expunction and getting all of the paperwork completed accurately can be complicated. It is very important to contact a local criminal defense attorney to have them review your criminal record to determine if you are eligible.