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‘It’s the right thing to do,’ Countless North Carolinians eligible for expungements under new law

Updated: Dec. 1, 2020 at 7:56 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Starting December 1, countless North Carolinians will get a second chance.

North Carolina’s Second Chance Act went into effect Tuesday and expands expungement options to some people convicted of lower level crimes.

The law was approved unanimously in both the state house and the senate before the governor signed it into law this summer.

Expunged criminal records are not available to the public, but expunged dismissals and convictions can still be accessed by district attorneys and considered by courts for sentencing if the person re-offends.

It’s been called the most sweeping legislation for young people since Raise The Age, as it provides expungements for people who committed crimes when they were between 16 and 18 years old and were treated as an adult in the criminal justice system.

Expungements were also extended to help people whose charges were dismissed or for which they were found not guilty. Additionally, people who served time for certain non-violent crimes and haven’t been in trouble since, are now eligible for those charges to be wiped from their record.

Chief District Court Judge J. Corpening says this law will allow people to be able to move on after they’ve paid their debt to society—to get good jobs, safe housing and contribute to the community. The judge says the district attorney’s office has identified 20,000 people in New Hanover county alone that could file for an expungement under the new rules.

“These are lower level offenses, these are not folks who put a gun to someone’s head or a knife or whatever to rob somebody. These are lower level offenses that, you know, aren’t violent offenses, that don’t place the public at risk and, in many cases, they happened years ago. And in order to qualify, they can’t have continued to engage in that behavior,” said Corpening. “It’s the right thing to do by our young people; it would’ve been the right thing to do by our young people decades ago.”

Corpening says it’s not uncommon for someone in their 30′s or 40′s to request an expungement, and admit their conviction from when they were 16 years old had impacted their prospects their entire adult life.

“This makes it easier for them to be employable; this makes it easier for them to be in school; this makes it easier for them to be employed at a higher wage. These things are good things for our community; when we have more folks who are employed and more that are employed in a higher wage job, its a win-win,” said Corpening.

Advocacy groups say at least one in four North Carolinians have some form of criminal record. The criminal justice system also disproportionately touches the lives of African Americans at a higher rate: Black adults are 5.9 times as likely to be incarcerated than white adults.

Having to disclose a criminal conviction often has dire repercussions for people seeking jobs, housing, and even education. People who are able to get good jobs and support their families are less likely to fall into a life of poverty and crime again.

Daquan Peters knows the challenges first hand. He was released from prison 14 months ago after serving more than a decade behind bars. Now he works for Leading Into New Communities (LINC), a nonprofit that helps youth and people released from incarceration.

“Even working for LINC, it was hard for me to find housing after coming home so, you know, when you’re out and you’re trying to do the right thing, of course you’re gonna have all types of barriers,” said Peters. “Some of these are necessities that we need, housing, employment, transportation, medical—we are entitled to them; we are human beings.”

Peters believes a key part of rehabilitation is allowing people to have a clean slate after they’ve served their time.

“Once I pay my debt to society, that debt shouldn’t continue to weigh on me for the rest of my life,” said Peters.

While there’s certainly a lot of work still to be done for people like Peters, judges and legislators alike are in agreement: one way to level the playing field is to give people a second chance.

While thousands are now eligible for expungement, there is still a process that must take place for many of these former inmates. In most cases, the records will not automatically be wiped.

Expungement can be granted if all the following conditions are met:

1. The person has not been convicted of any other felonies or misdemeanors (excluding traffic violations) during the five- or 10-year period

2. The person is found to be of good moral character

3. The person has never before been granted an expunction for a non-violent felony or non-violent misdemeanor

4. The person has no outstanding warrants, restitution orders or obligations, or criminal cases pending

The petition must be filed in the court of the county where the person was convicted and served on the district attorney.

Peters says anyone that needs help can contact him at LINC for help filing the appeal for an expungement and Corpening says people should keep an eye on nccourts.gov for updates on how to get expungements.

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