Imagine this: you have been picked up by the police for solicitation of prostitution in New Hanover County. Your Wilmington criminal defense attorney first seems quite confident about your case: it’s your first offense, the arrest didn’t perfectly follow the rules, and other factors make it likely the charges will be reduced.
A few hours later, he’s back to talk to you again. He’s worried. “It’s about your criminal record,” he says.
You stare at him blankly. “I don’t have a criminal record,” you say.
He shuffles some papers. “Let’s see,” he says. “Shoplifting at age 14, and then joyriding in a stolen car at 15, then underage alcohol possession at 18, it says here.”
“No, no, no,” you say. “I wasn’t guilty of the shoplifting, and for the other two, the charges were dropped.”
“Hmm,” he says, tapping his pen against his teeth. “Well, those incidents are part of your permanent criminal record. They will have an influence on the kind of deal I can get, and may affect the sentence.”
Your North Carolina criminal record follows you forever
North Carolina does not have a reputation for being especially kind to criminals. Every time a state resident comes under the suspicion of law enforcement, the details of that contact can become part of the person’s criminal record. That record can influence how prosecutors and judges react to later North Carolina criminal charges.
What happens if someone is charged of a crime in error—say, due to misidentification by a witness—but is later cleared and the charges are dropped? Or what if someone is found not guilty by a trial? Amazingly enough, those accusations still remain on the criminal record.
Expungement in North Carolina
There is a method available for cleaning up your criminal record—a process called expungement (or, less often, expunction). The process has the ability to wipe minor offenses off your criminal record.
Here is the most important thing to know about North Carolina criminal expungement: you can do it only once in your lifetime.
If you were once charged with a misdemeanor or felony, and the charge was dismissed or you were found not guilty, you can apply for expungement of that offense from your records. You apply for the expungement at the court for the county where you originally faced charges. You cannot get your record expunged if you have criminal charges pending against you. Some offenses—such as motor vehicle violations—are technically “infractions” rather than misdemeanors or felonies, and cannot be expunged.
Recent changes in state law also allows for expungement of some North Carolina felony and misdemeanor convictions. There are a number of specific categories that allow relief, and most require that the offense was committed when you were under age 21. Only low-level, nonviolent offenses can be removed from your record. You must not have had any further criminal convictions, and you may be required to produce documents demonstrating your good moral character.
After an expungement, all references to the offense will be removed from official records. The Administrative Office of the Courts will keep one confidential file about your case, but that is only used to verify whether you have used your once-in-a-lifetime expungement.
Getting your record cleared
Securing a North Carolina criminal expungement is very complicated. The requirements are very strict, and court officials are not going to help you get your paperwork in order.
At Speaks Law Firm, we recognize that a criminal record can have a serious impact on the rest of your life. Expungement offers a chance at relief from some of the harshest—and often unjust—consequences. To learn how our North Carolina criminal defense lawyers can help you with an expungement of your criminal record, call us today at 910-341-7570 or toll-free at 877-593-4233.