Criminal Law

Expunctions and Expungements

A CRIMINAL RECORD often gives rise to significant barriers to gainful employment, affordable housing, family unification, and a variety of other benefits and opportunities essential to productive citizenship. An expunction (also called an “expungement”) of a criminal record restores the individual, in the view of the law, to the status he or she occupied before the criminal record existed. With rare exception, when an individual is granted an expunction, he or she may truthfully and without committing perjury or false statement deny or refuse to acknowledge that the criminal incident occurred. The primary exception to this is for purposes of federal immigration.  

Contrary to common belief, opportunities to expunge a criminal record in North Carolina are relatively rare. Instead, criminal records eligible for expunction in North Carolina are generally limited to the following three categories:


  • A first-time, nonviolent offense committed more than 15 years ago
  • A first-time offense committed under age 18/22
  • A charge that was dismissed or disposed “not guilty”

Good News!

Governor Roy Cooper signed a new expungement law that went into effect on December 1, 2017. The main change is reduction in the wait period to expunge non-violent misdemeanor and felony convictions. 

As part of the same initiative, proposed House Bill 280, which has a delayed effective date of December, 1 2019, raises the minimum age to be charged as an adult will be to age 18 for most non-violent offenses. North Carolina is one of the last holdouts that currently charges 16 year olds as adults for any criminal offense.

New Expunction law changes in NC effective December 2017

  • Misdemeanor convictions wait period reduced from 15 years to 5 years.
  • Felony convictions wait period reduced from 15 years to 10 years.
  • No more limit on number of dismissals than can be expunged.
  • Prosecutors and law enforcement will have access to records.


How do you get your criminal record expunged in New Hanover or Brunswick County NC?

A petition must be filed in the County Courthouse where the charge originated. There are about 10 different AOC forms that are available online when searching the word “expunction” with more to be released. As of the publishing of this article new forms have not been published for the latest change to the law. The different forms are based on the age of the petitioner, the nature of the charge, and the outcome of the case.


How do you get a felony or misdemeanor expunged in New Hanover or Brunswick County NC?

A defendant is immediately eligible for both dismissals and not-guilty dispositions. If the charge resulted in a conviction the wait period depends on the age and charge. Felony convictions involving violence are often never eligible.


Can larceny be expunged in New Hanover or Brunswick County NC?

Under the new law, misdemeanor larceny convictions for those over age 18 at the time of the offense will be eligible after a 5 year wait period. If the defendant was under age 18 at the time of the offense the wait period remains at 2 years. There is no wait period for dismissals or findings of not-guilty.


Can a DUI be expunged in New Hanover or Brunswick County NC?

A petition to expunge a DWI or DUI can be filed immediately upon a dismissal. The same is true if you win at trial and the verdict is not-guilty. DWI convictions are explicitly excluded from the definition of non-violent misdemeanor under § 15A-145.5(a)(8a) and hence are never eligible.


Can drug charges be expunged in New Hanover or Brunswick County NC?

Drug convictions can be expunged depending on the exact charge and age of the defendant at the time of the charge. Under the new law there are wait periods for convictions ranging from 12 months to 10 years for those under 18, under 22, depending on the exact charge. For straight dismissals or after successful completion 90-96 there is no wait period.


How long is a misdemeanor on your record in New Hanover or Brunswick County NC?

Any criminal charge will remain on your record indefinitely under the laws of North Carolina. This includes pending charges, convictions, Prayer for Judgment Continued or PJC, and even dismissals. Nothing is automatically removed.


How long is a felony on your record in New Hanover or Brunswick County NC?

Felony charges, just like misdemeanor charges stay on your record in NC. This includes both convictions and dismissals. Charges never automatically drop off a record after a certain number of years.


How long does it take to get rid of a misdemeanor New Hanover or Brunswick County NC?

The expunction process due to the backlog generally takes 9-12 months to finalize. That being said the wait period is likely to grow now that more people will be eligible.


How long does it take to get rid of a felony in New Hanover or Brunswick County NC?

It can take up to 12 months to remove a charge from a criminal record in NC.


How can you get a felony removed from your record?

Many nonviolent felony convictions that are either Class H or Class I will be eligible under the new law after a wait period of 10 years. For convictions that occur before the defendant turned 18 there is a minimum 4 year wait period. For certain felony drug convictions that occur before age 21 there is a one (1) year wait period.


How many expungements can you get in New Hanover or Brunswick County NC?

The new law allows a person to erase an unlimited number of charges that have been dismissed no matter when they occurred.


Can an expunged record be found?

The answer is maybe. Senate Bill 445 does allow law enforcement and prosecutors access to criminal charge information that have been removed from a record. This is a change from the prior law. Private databases and internet mugshot websites may also keep otherwise destroyed data.


What does it mean to have your record expunged?

When a record is expunged the charge will be removed from your official State criminal record.


Can law enforcement see an expunged record?

Under the new law effective December 1, 2017 law enforcement will have access to newly expunged charges.


What shows up in a background check for a job?

On a North Carolina criminal record check any misdemeanor or felony charge will appear. This includes pending charges, dismissals, PJC’s, and convictions.


Does your criminal record clear after 7 years?

No, under NC law there is no automatic removal of charges even after dismissal. This myth may originate from laws in other States, but does not apply in North Carolina.


Do expunged records show up on background checks?

Although an expunction should remove the charge from your official State record there are private databases that may still retain data even for expunged records. There are websites that screen capture mugshots and create a page on the internet with your face enlarged. They offer to take down the page for a “modest” fee, but most of these sites do have disclaimers the fee is waived if you provide a certified expungement order. It would be prudent to do an internet search of yourself after any expunction is finalized to verify no old arrest pages exist online that were overlooked by the State or that are still cached by Google.

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