May 30, 2024

The North Carolina House Judiciary Committee recently approved a bill concerning automatic expungements. The bill, which would substitute Senate Bill 565 (SB 565), would repeal automatic expungement of dismissed and “not guilty” verdict charges. In 2020, the legislature passed the Second Chance Act. The General Assembly gave it unanimous approval, and Governor Roy Cooper quickly signed it into law.

This Act made people with multiple non-violent misdemeanors eligible to expunge their convictions. It also expanded automatic expungement eligibility to some “not guilty” and dismissed charges. Furthermore, the Second Chance Act allowed prosecutors to petition the expungement of “not guilty,” “youthful convictions,” and “dismissed” charges. However, the progress made by such automatic expungements stalled for roughly two years. The substitute for SB 565 intends to restart the Second Chance Act’s progress.

The original version of SB 565 appeared in 2023. It intended to improve the Second Chance Act after problems with its implementation. Under this proposed bill, “not guilty” or “dismissed” charges could still receive expungements. However, the original SB 565 required individuals to request expungements. This requirement required interested parties to complete a form through the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts.

Some second-chance advocates voiced reservations about the new bill, especially the lack of automatic expungements. According to one advocate, those with less finances could not afford an attorney, and not having one would prevent them from obtaining an expungement. As such, only those with enough money could afford expungement.

Other second-chance advocates and some committee members also disapprove of the new version of the bill. They claim it will create barriers to jobs and housing. However, some advocates have urged against repealing the law. Though the Second Chance Act has faced significant implementation issues, over 400,000 North Carolinians had their records expunged before legislation paused it.

Though Representative Sarah Stevens (R-Surry) defended the proposal, she agreed it is fraught with problems. One issue she specified concerns those with jail credits after the District Court charged them with a felony. If dismissed, the individual would not have the jail credit when the district attorney goes for an indictment.

According to Whitley Carpenter of Forward Justice, “With any new system, implementation may present some problems but as we have seen in the many other states that passed similar laws, we have to be willing to work through these problems if we really want to address the second chance gap that’s evidenced by the data in our state.”

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