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Bill to ease expunction laws clears House

 

A bill that would let people obtain expunctions of certain crimes they committed when they were teenagers, and make it easier to have dismissed charges expunged from records, has passed the state’s House of Representatives by a wide margin,

Under current law, 16- and 17-year-olds are treated as adults in the state’s criminal justice system and subject to the same sentences and expunction rules as adults. But once the “Raise the Age’ bill, which the General Assembly passed in 2017, goes into effect in December, first-time 16- and 17-year-old non-violent offenders will be treated as juveniles for misdemeanors and low-level felonies.

The new bill, HB 121, would bring expunction laws in line with the spirit of the Raise the Age law. Courts would be required to grant petitions to expunge convictions for misdemeanors or Class H or I felonies that were committed when the applicant was 16 or 17 once their sentences are completed. It passed the House by a 106-2 margin on April 15.

“This bill is a very positive response to a question many advocates, impacted individuals, and legislators have asked as the effective date of Raise the Age nears,” said Daniel Bowes, an attorney and lobbyist with the NC Justice Center in Raleigh. “What relief can we provide to people who have already been convicted and punished for criminal offenses that would be considered juvenile offenses if committed on or after December 1, 2019?”

HB 121 would also remove an obstacle to having the record of charges expunged when the charges are dismissed or the defendant is found not guilty. Under current law, such relief is available only if the applicant has not been convicted of a felony, but the proposed law would remove that requirement.

The bill follows last year’s passage of SB 445, which reduces the wait time to petition the court for the expungement of a first-time, nonviolent misdemeanor to five years from 15. For certain first-time, low-level, nonviolent felonies, the wait time is reduced to 10 years from 15 years; and defendants can now petition to expunge dismissed charges and “not guilty’ findings numerous times.

Follow Bill Cresenzo on Twitter @bcresenzonclw


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