NC expands certificate law, taking three steps forward, one step back

The states are on a roll in passing new “second chance” legislation.  In addition to the extraordinary new Pennsylvania bill on automatic sealing we posted about earlier today, we’ve just learned that the North Carolina legislature has approved a bill modifying eligibility for judicial Certificates of Relief.  Certificates, which are available from the sentencing court one year after sentencing, remove mandatory collateral consequences (including in employment and licensing), certify that an individual poses no public safety risk, and provide negligent hiring protection.  The bill has been sent to the Governor for signature, we will inform you as soon as he has done so.   Hat’s off to our friends at the North Carolina Justice Center, who worked hard to get this bill passed!   

The bill will provide further relief and opportunity for people with multiple convictions.  The “one step back” referred to in the title of this post is that while the bill significantly expands eligibility for misdemeanors and the lowest level felonies, it also removes from eligibility one class of felony.   It is inevitable that there will occasionally be some last-minute counter-current in pressing for extension of relief provisions.   In North Carolina, what might have been cause for discouragement has evidently (and commendably) provided advocates with additional incentive to pursue a reform agenda and to educate employers about the value of certificates.   

Here is a description of the bill from Daniel Bowes at the NCJC:    

On June 14, the Certificate of Relief bill passed the Senate, and the House immediately concurred. The bill will become law with the Governor’s signature and go into effect Dec. 1, 2018. The bill and legislative history are here: .

The new law will expand certificate of relief eligibility to people with multiple misdemeanor and low-level felony convictions. Current eligibility is one incident of up to 2 convictions of a Class G, H, or I felony or misdemeanor. H774 expands eligibility to people with up to 3 incidents of Class H and I felony convictions and an unlimited number of misdemeanor convictions. All H or I felony convictions disposed in the same session of court count as 1 conviction for purposes of COR eligibility. Unfortunately, Class G felonies were removed from eligibility. During the senate judiciary committee meeting, one of the members asked staff to read out the list of Class G felonies and the conversation went downhill from there.

Our long-term goal is to expand eligibility to all people with criminal convictions, but that was not feasible in the current legislative session. For now,  we have a big opportunity to elevate the visibility and value of certificates of relief through our networks and alliances. Over the next few weeks, we hope to educate employer groups and landlords, along with our allies and other advocates and service provider about certificates of relief and to assist the Chief Justice’s Working Group on Expunctions to influence NC Administrative Office of the Courts to make the petition and order form much better at telling employers and other decision-makers how the certificate is valuable and what it means.