Often, when a person has been convicted of a crime, their concern turns to whether the conviction will remain on their record forever. This is particularly true for younger defendants who are concerned about their chances of being accepted into a college or those seeking employment. Criminal convictions are serious and can serve to hinder one from obtaining gainful employment, government benefits, including student aid for school, housing, and other significant interests. An expunction will allow a person to truthfully respond to criminal conviction questions on an application by denying or even refusing to mention the charge or conviction. There are a few exceptions to this rule. Although North Carolina statutes allow for expungements, the ability to obtain them is not particularly an easy feat, especially when a person has multiple convictions spanning a period of time.
For those who are successful at obtaining an expunction, the result is that their criminal charge(s) or convictions that were expunged will be erased from public databases (court records, state and local law enforcement agencies, government agencies listed in the petition) and some private databases, if they are notified. With the internet and other technology available, it is not guaranteed that private entities will erase their records. This means that although you may obtain an expunction and have your records erased from state background check databases, your record may still be looming around with private entities and therefore, may still be seen by an employer or others who use those private entities.
The process of obtaining an expungement
The process of obtaining an expunction requires that the defendant submit a form (petition) to the Clerk of Court in the jurisdiction in which the conviction occurred. You must first determine if you qualify and if so, under what statute. It is a great idea to obtain a copy of your full criminal record so you will accurately know and identify the charges or convictions and ensure you obtain the correct and most beneficial expunction. The requirements will differ depending on which statutory expunction you qualify for based on the type, your age, nature of the charge(s) and how the case was disposed. The type of expunctions available are grouped under three general categories: age-based convictions, dismissals or non-convictions, and convictions based on a juvenile record. The forms can be assessed online at the NC Courts website. Most expunctions impose a fee of $175; however, there are a few that do not require this fee. Some expunctions may require you to obtain affidavits from individuals in the community stating their familiarity with you and how you behave in the community. Also, keep in mind that an expunction is a one-time opportunity for the duration of your lifetime. Therefore, it is best to expunge the most serious offenses on your record as opposed to something minor. Traffic offenses and infractions (non-criminal act for which only a fine not more than $100 can be imposed and for which no jail time can be imposed) will not qualify for an expungement. Therefore, if you have a DWI on you record, it will remain on your record. For multiple convictions, the date of the offense will matter in determining which charges can be included in the petition.
Prior to your expunction being granted you (or your attorney) will have to attend a court hearing where the judge will officially enter an order requiring your records to be destroyed. Once the judge signs the order for the expunction, it is important to retain a copy of the expunction order, because once granted the court and all other agencies will destroy the petitioner’s file, including the petition and order.
Some individuals think they can do an expungement on their own. This may be the case, but if you decide to take a stab at it, it is best you read the statute carefully and make sure you follow each and every requirement or the petition will be returned to you. It is always a better idea to have the assistance of an attorney who can assist you with the filing and to ensure you understand the whole process.
Lastly, from the time of filing until the time the judge hears the matter and signs an order can typically take between 6-8 months so if you are making a filing, be patient.