Governor Perdue recently signed a bill into law that will allow North Carolina’s courts to expunge the records of 16- and 17-year-olds charged with or convicted of nonviolent felonies. An expungement erases a criminal charge or conviction from the record, essentially wiping the slate clean as far as the public, the courts and law enforcement is concerned.
The extension to younger teens is particularly important in North Carolina. This is one of just two states in which a 16- or 17-year-old can be charged as an adult. Under current law, a teen charged as a juvenile may petition the court for an expungement.
Lawmakers say they were motivated by the tough job market and increasingly easy access to criminal records. Candidates with, for example, underage drinking charges on their records are finding it harder to get hired, especially since employers aren’t limited in any way with regard to criminal background checks.
“Back in the day,” bank tellers and police officers were screened, but not blog writers or waitresses. That’s changed with the advent of the Internet.
The number of expungements in North Carolina has increased significantly over the past decade. State records show that more than 76,000 individuals have had charges wiped from the files.
The records don’t entirely disappear. The information is stored in a database that is open to a small group of state officials. Otherwise, though, the file is whisked away from the county clerk’s office, and law enforcement officers (including prison officials) are not allowed to reference any case that was later expunged.
Another important protection comes with expungement: If the defendant is asked at some point in the future if he has a criminal record, he may say no. The defendant is immune from charges of perjury.
We’ll continue this discussion in our next post.
Source: News & Observer, “More getting a clean slate,” Mandy Locke and David Raynor, 06/26/2011