South Carolina Expands Youthful Offenders Act

July 18, 2023

A change to South Carolina’s law aims to expand access to employment by giving youthful offenders a second chance. The changes would expand access to expungement for those with misdemeanor and low-level felony convictions previously ineligible under existing laws.

Introduced under Act No. 73, it would expand South Carolina’s existing law, Youthful Offenders Act. The latter Act denied youth from expunging convictions involving violent crimes, domestic violence, and others. Otherwise, anyone 17 to 24 years old could request expungements for low-level felonies and nonviolent misdemeanors.

This law allows those convicted of nonviolent misdemeanors defined under Section 16-1-60 to qualify for expungement. It also applies to low-level felony convictions, including Class D, Class E, Class F, and others, with a maximum term of imprisonment of 15 years or less. This law may include crimes such as shoplifting or commonly nonviolent drug convictions.

These expungements will not happen automatically. Instead, qualifying individuals must petition the court to begin the expungement process. Furthermore, the applicant must meet several requirements, such as age and not accruing further offenses during the five-year waiting period.

Act No. 73’s changes amend the Youthful Offenders Act to provide carve-outs for several convictions. Examples of such offenses include driving under suspension or disturbing schools. Previously, these prevented youths from receiving expungements under the Youthful Offenders Act. Advocates of the changes often associate these convictions with those living in poverty. They also claim these records prevent young people from moving past serious mistakes.

With the Youthful Offenders Act amendments, individuals would become eligible for expungement even when they receive convictions for disturbing schools or driving with a suspended license. According to the amendments, it would allow expungements before the five-year waiting period expires. It would also give those eligible for expungement second chances to clear their records. Finally, the amendments also apply retroactively, affecting existing convictions.

Though the legislature passed Act No. 73, South Carolina’s governor, Henry McMaster, vetoed it as he had with other expungement-related attempts. He mentioned a willingness to work with the General Assembly to pass laws improving employment opportunities. However, he specified that this interest applied to those who first paid their debt to society. In response, the General Assembly overturned his veto with an overwhelming vote, forcing the law into effect.

With this new law now in effect, employers should review their hiring policies. For example, they should consider which convictions, including those ineligible for expungement, should disqualify potential candidates. Employers must also consider how the Youthful Offenders Act impacts hiring due to its expungement provisions. To kickstart this process, employers should collaborate with an experienced screening provider who can offer valuable guidance and assistance.

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