In the next few weeks, Cumberland County District Attorney Billy West will hold informational sessions for people who think they may qualify to be lawfully expunged. An expungement clinic will be held in the Spring of 2022 where local attorneys, the public defender’s office, and Legal Aid of NC will assist individuals in having their records expunged. So, what in the world is expungement? To “expunge” is to “erase or remove completely.” In the law, “expungement” is the process by which a record of criminal conviction is destroyed or sealed from state or federal records.
An expungement order directs the court to treat a criminal conviction as if it had never occurred, essentially removing it from a defendant’s criminal record as well as, ideally, the public record. It is important to clarify that expungement is not “forgiveness” for committing a crime — that is a legal pardon. Likewise, pardons are not expungements and do not require removal of a conviction from a criminal record. When a criminal record is expunged, the public record of the arrest, charge, or conviction is deleted.
Notice is also sent to a range of government entities, such as the sheriff’s office or police department that made the arrest and the division of motor vehicles. These agencies are directed to purge their records relating to the arrest, charge, or conviction. For most purposes, it’s like the legal proceeding never happened. However, confidential records are retained after expungement. These records are available under very limited circumstances, such as when a judge considering an expungement application wants to know whether the applicant has been granted an expungement in the past.
Who should be expunged?
"It's someone whose license has been suspended for at least 5 years due to unpaid fees on a minor traffic offense that has already been adjudicated such as a stop sign offense, speeding ticket, expired registration," West said.
Fayetteville criminal justice activist Demetria Murphy said the economic treadmill is exactly what stops people from getting their licenses again.
"Someone who goes from making $8 or $9 who now can go and work for a distribution center and have their regular driver's license back...puts them in a position to actually win," Murphy said.
Under North Carolina law, a person whose record has been expunged generally does not have to disclose the arrest, charge or conviction on job applications, applications for housing, and in other settings where a criminal conviction may have a negative impact. Prospective employers and educational institutions can’t require applicants to disclose expunged entries. In fact, North Carolina law specifically protects people with expunged criminal records from perjury and similar charges relating to failure to disclose an expunged record. Employers who violate this law can be fined.
North Carolina law provides for expungement of a wide variety of arrests, charges and convictions. In some cases, expungement is available only to people who were under a certain age at the time of the crime. Other expungements are available regardless of age. The best source of information about whether your arrest, charge, or conviction may be eligible for expungement is an experienced Fayetteville criminal defense attorney. For more information, contact the District Attorney’s Office at (910) 475-3010 or at Cumberland.DAExpugements@nccourts.org.