Updated North Carolina relief guide now available

ncsealcolorAt long last I have released the 2015 edition of my online guide to relief from a criminal conviction in North Carolina. This free guide, available here from the UNC School of Government, covers the various forms of relief available under North Carolina law, including expunctions, certificates of relief, petitions to restore firearm rights and terminate sex offender registration obligations, and other procedures. It includes changes made by the North Carolina General Assembly through the end of its 2015 legislative session.

This edition of the guide is longer, reflecting the greater attention given by the North Carolina General Assembly to this area of law in recent years. North Carolina law now authorizes certificates of relief, patterned after the Uniform Collateral Consequences of Conviction Act. North Carolina also has expanded the opportunities to obtain an expunction.

Expunctions are now available for older nonviolent felony convictions. Recent statutory changes prohibit public and private employers and educational institutions from inquiring about expunged charges and convictions and, further, require government agencies to advise applicants that they have the right not to disclose expunged information. People still must meet precise statutory criteria to be eligible for relief, however. Although North Carolina courts granted approximately 13,000 expunctions of dismissals in fiscal year 2013–14, they granted about 700 expunctions of convictions and other matters. See 2014 Expunctions Report [NCAOC and DOJ Joint Report Pursuant to G.S. § 15A-160] (Sept. 1, 2014) (providing data on expunctions from 2008 to 2014).

The guide is intended to help lawyers, judges, and others navigate this surprisingly complex area of law. The guide includes a brief explanation of each type of relief along with a table identifying the requirements for each. Another feature of the guide, thanks to the School’s new website, is that it automatically adjusts to the screen of any electronic device, including mobile phones. Live links to statutes, forms, and other resources appear throughout the guide. Also included is a link to our online Collateral Consequences Assessment Tool (C-CAT), a free electronic database on the collateral consequences of a conviction in North Carolina, updated through 2015.

The guide addresses questions I have received since release of the previous edition, reflected in the body of the guide and in a longer section of frequently addressed questions. Because few expunction matters are appealed, many of these questions have not been addressed by the North Carolina appellate courts.

For example, North Carolina law allows a court to continue a case permanently, without entering judgment, after a person has pled guilty or has been found guilty. This disposition, called a prayer for judgment continued or PJC, is intended to keep a person’s record free of a conviction; but, for many purposes, such as sentencing in a later case or employment licensing, the law treats a PJC as the equivalent of a conviction.

Can a PJC be expunged under North Carolina law? Because of the absence of a final judgment, trial courts have been uncertain how to proceed. The guide contains a longer analysis here, but my short answer is yes, a PJC may be expunged under the same circumstance as a conviction. The language of the expunction statutes as well as the policy reasons behind them support this result.

One benefit of an online publication is that it can be easily updated. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions not addressed in the guide or other information you wish to share. For people with prior criminal convictions who are trying to regain their footing, this is an area of law worth further consideration.

John Rubin

John Rubin is Albert Coates Professor of Public Law and Government at the University of North Carolina. He specializes in criminal law and indigent defense education. He has written several articles and books on criminal law; teaches and consults with judges, prosecutors, public defenders, and other officials in the criminal justice system; and manages the School’s indigent defense education program. He previously practiced law for nine years in Washington, DC and Los Angeles.

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