This part reviews North Carolina’s certificate-of-relief procedure, enacted by the General Assembly in 2011. See S.L. 2011-265 (H 641). The procedure is patterned after the Uniform Collateral Consequences of Conviction Act (Uniform Act), enacted in 2009 and amended in 2010 by the Uniform Law Commission (also known as the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws). Through the Uniform Act, the Uniform Law Commission recommended that states allow people who have been convicted of a crime to apply for relief from collateral consequences that could impede their reintegration into society. North Carolina’s procedure, in Article 6 of G.S. Chapter 15A (G.S. 15A-173.1 through G.S. 15A-173.6), became effective December 1, 2011, meaning that it is available to people with criminal convictions who meet the requirements for relief whether their offenses or convictions occurred before or after December 1, 2011.

Requirements

The basic requirements for obtaining relief, contained in G.S. 15A-173.2, appear in Table 22. The petitioner may obtain a certificate if he or she has been convicted of no more than two Class G, H, or I felonies or misdemeanors of any class in one session of court. This language allows a certificate to be obtained for any combination of the permissible conviction classes (for example, one Class H felony and one misdemeanor or two Class I felonies).

Questions common to various relief statutes are discussed in this guide in Appendixes: Frequently Asked Questions, such as the meaning of a “traffic violation,” the appropriate offense class to consider (the class at the time of conviction or at the time of the petition), and the effect of a prayer for judgment continued (PJC).

Effect

A certificate of relief is a court order. It reflects the court’s determination—after notice to the prosecutor and victim and, if requested by the court, investigation by a probation officer—that the petitioner should be granted relief. See G.S. 15A-173.4 (describing procedure for issuance of a certificate of relief).

If granted, a certificate of relief affects two types of collateral consequences: “collateral sanctions,” defined as penalties, disabilities, or disqualifications imposed by operation of law; and “disqualifications,” defined as penalties that an agency, official, or court may impose based on the conviction. In other words, collateral sanctions are those that are mandatory in the absence of a certificate of relief (or other form of relief), while disqualifications are those that a board or commission would have the discretion to impose. See also Uniform Collateral Consequences of Conviction Act, Section 2 Comment at p. 8 (describing collateral sanctions as mandatory and collateral disqualifications as discretionary). A certificate of relief relieves the person of all mandatory collateral sanctions except those listed in G.S. 15A-173.3 (for example, sex offender registration requirements and firearm disqualifications under G.S. Chapter 14, Article 54A (The Felony Firearms Act) and Article 54B (Concealed Handgun Permit)); those imposed by the North Carolina Constitution or federal law (for example, the state constitutional ban on holding the office of sheriff if previously convicted of a felony and federal bans on federally assisted housing and food stamp benefits for some convictions); and those specifically excluded in the certificate. A certificate of relief does not bar an entity from imposing discretionary disqualifications based on the conviction, but an entity may consider the certificate favorably in deciding whether to impose the disqualification.

G.S. 58-71-80(b) and (b1) are examples of collateral sanctions. These statutes require the Commissioner of Insurance to deny or revoke a person’s license to work as a bail bondsman if the person has been convicted of a felony at any time or of a misdemeanor drug offense on or after October 1, 2009. If the person obtains a certificate of relief, the commissioner may still consider the person’s prior conviction in making a licensing decision, but the prior conviction is not an automatic bar to a license. G.S. 58-71-80(a) provides examples of disqualifications. It permits, but does not require, the Commissioner of Insurance to deny or revoke a bail bondsman’s license for, among other reasons, conviction of a crime involving dishonesty, breach of trust, or moral turpitude; and the Commissioner may consider a certificate of relief favorably in making a licensing decision.

In addition to its effect on mandatory and discretionary collateral consequences, a certificate of relief limits the liability of a person who works with someone who receives a certificate of relief. G.S. 15A-173.5 provides that a certificate of relief bars a judicial or administrative action alleging lack of due care by a person who, knowing of the certificate of relief, hired, retained, licensed, leased to, admitted to a school or program, or otherwise transacted business or engaged in activity with the recipient of the certificate.

A certificate of relief does not result in an expunction or pardon of the conviction; a person must use other mechanisms to obtain those forms of relief.

Table 22. Certificates of Relief

Matters Subject to Certificate of Relief

Principal Restrictions on Issuance of Certificate of Relief

Applicable Statutes and Forms

  • Any combination of two or fewer Class G, H, or I felony or misdemeanor convictions in one session of court
  • No other convictions for a felony or misdemeanor other than for traffic violation
  • Person is not in violation of any criminal sentence, or violation is justified, excused, involuntary, or insubstantial
  • No pending criminal charges
  • Person is engaged in or seeking a lawful occupation or activity or otherwise has a lawful source of support
  • Petition may not be filed until 12 months after completion of sentence
  • Granting of petition would not pose unreasonable risk