A Criminal Record is Not Forever, Says Bill Sent to Governor

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The North Carolina General Assembly accomplished this week what some state lawmakers have been trying to do for a decade. Both the House and the Senate approved a bill that will allow the courts to wipe the slate clean for some nonviolent offenders. Not only will future offenders have the opportunity to expunge their records, but individuals who have already been convicted of a misdemeanor or a felony will as well. Gov. Bev Perdue is expected to sign the bill into law soon.

Again, the law will only apply to individuals convicted of nonviolent offenses. Offenders will not qualify if they were convicted of homicide or manslaughter, a sex crime, assault, robbery, burglary, arson or another crime specified in the bill. Nonviolent crimes include drug possession, fraud, larceny, shoplifting and similar offenses.

An individual must wait 15 years from the date of the conviction before applying for the expungement. The applicant must then provide the court with proof of “good moral character,” and two people not related by blood or marriage must vouch for the applicant. As a safeguard, the law allows probation officers and district attorneys to conduct background checks and to contact victims for their input. Also, a judge is allowed to toss out an application that he or she believes is without merit.

A criminal record can stay with a one-time offender for life. A conviction can keep people from qualifying for student loans or from being hired. In the end, that criminal record makes it extremely difficult for a person to prove he has changed and to make a meaningful contribution to society.

Even if opponents believe the bill is “soft on crime,” the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association is satisfied that the bill is fair. The group believes the General Assembly included every possible safeguard in the bill to make sure that only people who deserve the expungement will get it.

Source: Raleigh News & Observer, “NC committee OKs bill that gives felons new start,” Allen Reed, July 7, 2012