In the State of North Carolina, it may be possible to have an individual’s criminal record sealed, or expunged, under certain specific circumstances. This does not mean that the records of conviction are removed or destroyed, as members of law enforcement will still be able to view them.
In everyday life, however, the outcome of the process will be as if the conviction never occurred.
What Is Record Sealing or Expungement?
When an individual has a conviction on their criminal record, it can cause them numerous issues with things such as:
Even if an individual’s criminal case does not result in a formal conviction, their record of arrest as well as the criminal prosecution may remain, which can cause them to have similar issues. In certain cases, a record of arrest or a conviction may be sealed so that they are off limits to everyone but law enforcement personnel.
In other cases, an individual’s criminal record may be subject to expungement, where the criminal file is completely removed from public records. Each state in the United States has some type of expungement process.
It is important to note that an individual does not have a constitutional right to have their criminal records expunged. Whether an individual’s criminal record is eligible for expungement will depend on the laws of the state where the records exist.
Why Is Expungement Beneficial?
If an individual has a criminal conviction on their record, it may cause them significant issues. For example, they might have issues obtaining a professional license, finding or keeping a job, and they may lose the right to vote unless they complete a complex procedure to have the right restored.
Due to these issues, expungement may be beneficial to individuals who have criminal records. Expungement may also be used for criminal charges that were dismissed.
This means that if an individual was charged but never entered a guilty plea in a plea agreement or had a trial, those records may be expunged. It may also be available if the disposition of the criminal charge was deferred for some reason.
It is important to be aware that expungement for criminal convictions is rare. Additionally, there are certain charges that are more difficult to have expunged than other charges.
How Is Record Sealing Different from Expungement?
One of the main differences between record sealing and record expungement is that, when a record is sealed, it will still exist. This means that the records and files related to the issue still remain, they just cannot be accused by employers or other individuals.
Usually, it is standard practice that an individual’s juvenile criminal files are sealed once they reach 18 years of age. In some cases, however, the records may still be accessed by a court order.
In comparison, expungement results in the actual deletion or erasing of criminal charges and files related to the arrest, as if they did not occur. There are some types of charges that may be more difficult for an individual to have expunged than other types of charges.
For example, a misdemeanor charge is usually more easy to expunge than a felony charge. It is important to note that the laws governing criminal record sealing and expungement vary by state.
In addition, whether or not an individual is eligible for record sealing or expungement usually depends on the type of crime that was committed.
When Is Expungement Available in North Carolina?
In North Carolina, expungement may be available to an individual if:
- The charges have been dismissed or the defendant was found not guilty;
- If a different individual was arrested or charged using the defendant’s name or identification;
- The defendant is at least 18 years of age and wishes to expunge juvenile records, although this will not be available for serious offenses;
- The defendant is a first-time offender, less than 21 years of age and charged with a minor drug possession;
- For more serious crimes, the offense must have occurred over 15 years ago, and did not involve:
When Is Expungement Not Available in North Carolina?
Expungement will not be available in the State of North Carolina in the following situations:
- The defendant has a prior conviction for a certain misdemeanor or felony;
- Expungement is only available for first-time offenders;
- The defendant has already had a conviction expunged;
- The defendant has pending criminal charges; or
- Expungement is being requested for a motor vehicle violation, such as a traffic infraction.
What Is Some Additional Information About Record Sealing or Expungement?
If an individual is seeking to have their records sealed or expunged, it is important to note that:
- Many felonies are not eligible for expungement;
- Nearly every sex offense will not be eligible for record sealing;
- Expungement usually applies to juvenile offenses or misdemeanors; and
- In certain states, even though an individual’s records are sealed, the original sealed conviction may still be used to increase the severity of a future sentence.
Certain courts may have their own procedures for record sealing as well as expungement. There are also additional issues for an individual to be aware of regarding record sealing and expungement, such as:
- Registration as a sex offender: If an individual is required to be registered as a sex offender as a result of a conviction, sealing or expunging their record does not put an end to this requirement;
- No sealing of records of sex offenses: The majority of sexual offenses are not eligible for record sealing; and
- Use as prior convictions: In certain states, although records are sealed, the original sealed conviction may still be used at a later time to increase the severity of punishment at a future sentencing.
As noted above, even if a criminal record is sealed, it does not mean that the record disappears from the view of law enforcement. In addition, even sealed juvenile criminal records may be used in criminal proceedings later in an individual’s life.
Generally, once an individual’s conviction is sealed or expunged, they are legally permitted to deny ever having been convicted of the crime. For example, they are not required to list it on job applications.
It is important to note that there may be exceptions to this rule. For example, certain employment positions may require an individual to disclose any conviction they have had, even if it was expunged, such as if they are applying for a job that involves children or a government job.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
If you are seeking to have your criminal record sealed or expunged, it is important to consult with a North Carolina expungement lawyer who can help you throughout the process. Your lawyer can advise you whether you may be eligible in North Carolina.
In addition, your lawyer can help you file the required application with the court. There may be specific documents you have to file along with a report of your conviction.
Your attorney can help you obtain the correct documents, fill them out, and submit them to the court. Having the help of an attorney will expedite the process as well as give you the best chance of having your records expunged.