CCRC Board member John Rubin of the University of North Carolina faculty has provided us with a detailed account of NC’s brand new Second Chance Act, and we are pleased to post it below. We are particularly pleased to see North Carolina join the 13 other states that have enacted automatic record relief for dismissals and acquittals, and remove its prior felony bar to eligibility. It appears that only a handful of states still retain this unfortunate provision, including Rhode Island, Oklahoma, and West Virginia. We look forward to studying the new law in detail, and will shortly incorporate its provisions into the NC profile and 50-state charts from the Restoration of Rights Project.
We are also pleased to introduce our new 50-state chart on “Process for expunging or sealing non-convictions,” which indicates that there are now a total of 20 states that deliver relief for dismissals and acquittals that is either automatic or expedited at time of disposition. At least half of these laws have been enacted in the past two years. But there are still 24 states and D.C. that require people to file petitions, satisfy complex eligibility requirements, and jump through a variety of procedural hoops to limit public access to these records, and one state (Arizona) and the federal system offer no relief at all. There is no excuse for allowing these records to remain publicly available and the source of discrimination, when the government was unwilling or unable to prosecute their charges to conviction. We will continue to work for reforms based on the Model Law on Non-Conviction Records, and are happy to offer advice and assistance to any jurisdiction that decides to take on these issues.
A Second Chance in North Carolina Through Expanded Record Clearance
© UNC School of Government
North Carolina continues to make gradual strides in helping people clear their criminal records and enhance their opportunities going forward. Last week the Governor signed the Second Chance Act, S.L. 2020-35 (S 562), which passed the General Assembly unanimously. The Second Chance Act expands expunction opportunities and streamlines the process for people trying to clear their records. The product of negotiation and compromise, it reflects the interests of prosecutors, law enforcement, and court administrators as well. The act illustrates many of the record clearance issues being considered around the country, including automatic expunction of nonconviction records (to begin in North Carolina at the end of 2021), removal of barriers to expunctions of nonconviction records (most notably, no longer will prior convictions, whether for a felony or misdemeanor, be a bar), somewhat greater opportunities to expunge older convictions if “nonviolent,” and greater access by prosecutors and law enforcement to expunged case information. This summary does not try to explore the many nooks and crannies in the legislation. It is a first pass at describing the changes. Read more
A couple of news items about an increase in clemency applications in Canada made me curious to learn more about how restoration of rights works in our Northern neighbor.
Canada has long had a policy of virtually automatic sealing of criminal records through what is known as a “record suspension” (before 2012, called a “pardon”). The Criminal Records Act (CRA) makes record suspension available from the Parole Board of Canada for any offense except sex crimes involving children, and to any individual except those convicted of multiple serious crimes, after waiting periods of five years from completion of sentence for “summary” offenses and 10 years for “indictable” offenses. (Prior to 2012 the waiting periods were three and five years.) Non-conviction records may be purged sooner.
Once a record has been suspended, all information pertaining to convictions is taken out of the Canadian Police Information Centre and may not be disclosed without permission from the Minister of Public Safety. The CRA states that no employment application form within the federal public service may ask any question that would require an applicant to disclose a conviction. It is unlawful under Section 3 of the Canadian Human Rights Act to discriminate in employment or housing or union membership against anyone based upon “an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered.”
In 2012-13 the PBC ordered more than 6600 pardons and records suspensions, 97% of all applications received. (According to the PBC website, since 1970 more than 460,000 Canadians have received pardons and record suspensions. “96 percent of these are still in force, indicating that the vast majority of pardon/record suspension recipients remain crime-free in the community.”)
The 2012 amendment of the CRA to extend the eligibility waiting periods has resulted in an increase in applications for the extraordinary remedy of “clemency,” which has higher standards but no eligibility waiting period. Clemency, formally known as the “Royal Prerogative of Mercy” (RPM), may be granted in federal cases by the Governor General or the Governor in Council (i.e. Federal Cabinet), and applications are staffed by the PBC. Clemency is intended “only for rare cases in which considerations of justice, humanity and compassion override the normal administration of justice.” All other avenues of relief must have been exhausted, and there must be must be “clear and strong evidence of injustice or undue hardship.” In contrast to the thousands of ordinary records suspensions granted each year in Canada, there are only a handful of these extraordinary clemency grants. In 2012 there were 52 RPM applications and only 12 grants.
We’ve just learned that the School of Government at the University of North Carolina has produced a detailed and well-organized online guide to obtaining relief from a North Carolina criminal conviction. You can view the guide here. The guide explains in one place the various mechanisms available in North Carolina for obtaining relief from collateral consequences, including expunctions, judicial certificates of relief, and other procedures.
The guide supplements the School’s Collateral Consequences Assessment Tool, C-CAT, an online tool enabling users to identify the potential consequences of a criminal conviction in North Carolina. C-CAT is user-friendly and has been kept up to date with new laws enacted since its launch two years ago.
The relief guide is organized by the type of relief being sought and includes tables breaking down the specific requirements for relief. It describes special relief provisions for sex offender registration and firearms dispossession, as well as for drug crimes and juvenile adjudications. Features of the online guide include keyword searching, live links to internal and external cross-references such as statutes and forms, cases and opinions, and periodic updates. The guide was prepared by John Rubin, Albert Coates Professor of Public Law and Government.
This guide is the most detailed and user-friendly one we have seen, and should be a model for other jurisdictions.