Ask an Attorney: Is It Possible for Me to Clear My Record?

Ask an Attorney: Is It Possible for Me to Clear My Record?

A lot of us have made mistakes in our past. Some of those mistakes have resulted in temporary, short-term embarrassment. Others have resulted in lifelong, criminal consequences. For folks with a criminal record, a common question often arises: Is it possible for me to clear my record?

An “expunction,” also referred to as “expungement,” is the legal process you go through to clear your record. What many don’t realize, however, is that the process can be necessary even if you weren’t convicted of a crime. Unfortunately, the process can be complicated and time consuming depending on your circumstances.

Who is Eligible for an Expunction?

The question about who is eligible for an expunction isn’t as simple as it sounds. North Carolina law has numerous expunction statutes. Some focus on the specific offense at issue. Others focus on the individual’s age at the time of the offense. And another group focuses on the outcome of the criminal charges. We’ll address a couple of common examples below.

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First-Time Misdemeanor Convictions Under Age 21

One of the most common scenarios where someone might seek an expunction is for a criminal conviction that happened when they were less than 21 years old. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-145 sets forth several situations where an expunction might be possible for such a conviction.

First, if a first-time offender “pleads guilty or is guilty of a misdemeanor other than a traffic violation, and the offense was committed before the person attained the age of 18 years,” they may seek an expunction in the county where they were convicted.

Second, if a first-time offender “pleads guilty to or is guilty of a misdemeanor possession of alcohol … and the offense was committed before the person attained the age of 21 years,” they may seek an expunction in the county where they were convicted.

Clear my Record of Underage Drinking
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Nonviolent Misdemeanor or Felony Convictions

Another common scenario where someone might seek an expunction is for a criminal conviction of a nonviolent misdemeanor or felony. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-145-5 permits someone to seek the expunction of such a conviction so long as they don’t have any other misdemeanor or felony convictions.

The most significant limitation on eligibility for this expunction centers on timing. The statute requires that you wait “10 years after the date of the conviction for a nonviolent felony or five years for a nonviolent misdemeanor or when any active sentence, period of probation, and post-release supervision has been served, whichever occurs later.”

The statute also defines the terms “nonviolent misdemeanor” and “nonviolent felony” in somewhat limited ways. Some examples that are expressly excluded from their definitions include offenses involving assaults, offenses involving methamphetamines, heroin or cocaine, offenses involving commercial vehicles, impaired-driving offenses, and sex-related and stalking offenses.

Clear my Record of Nonviolent Crimes
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How Do I Get an Expunction?

North Carolina provides numerous resources for individuals seeking an expunction. To make things easier, most of the forms are available online. And, to make things even easier than that, the state includes specific instruction sheets for each type of expunction.

For example, if you’re seeking an expunction of underage-drinking conviction, you’d follow these instructions. While the process can be slightly different depending on the type of expunction, you will generally complete the necessary paperwork and file it in the county where the offense at issue occurred.

Most expunctions require a $175 filing fee, but courts may waive the fee if you can’t afford it. There are also some exceptions to the fee, if you are seeking an expunction of charges that were dismissed.

Ultimately, the expunction process can take several months and may even involve a court hearing.

Hiring a Lawyer to Clear My Record
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What Else Do I Need to Know to Clear My Record?

If you’re asking whether you should get an expunction, you probably have another question as well: Should I hire a lawyer? It depends. An experienced attorney can help you determine your eligibility, help you complete the paperwork correctly and represent you in a hearing.

On the other hand, attorneys are expensive. And North Carolina law does not provide for court-appointed attorneys to help with expunctions. There are, however, organizations in NC that can assist you with the process.

One of those organizations is Legal Aid of North Carolina. Legal Aid of NC is a statewide nonprofit that helps North Carolinians with a variety of legal issues, including expunctions. In fact, just earlier this week, the organization held a free “Criminal Expungement Clinic” to help NC residents learn about expunction rights.

As Legal Aid of NC put it on Twitter, “[a] criminal record shouldn’t have to hold you back from employment or housing[.]” Can I clear my record? If you’re asking yourself that question, spend some time exploring the resources available in NC today.

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