Relief from a Criminal Conviction (2016 edition)

General Considerations for Expunctions

Expunction is a procedure by which a person obtains a court order to expunge—that is, erase or delete—the record of prior court proceedings against him or her. The right to obtain an expunction depends on North Carolina statutes. If no statute authorizes an expunction of a conviction, a person generally has no right to one.[1]

This guide focuses on the different types of expunctions available in North Carolina for adult criminal court proceedings—that is, proceedings in which a person is prosecuted in criminal court as an adult.[2] For a discussion of the criteria for expunctions of delinquency proceedings—that is, proceedings in which a juvenile was alleged to be or adjudicated as delinquent—see infra Expunctions of Delinquency Matters.

A person also may obtain expunctions of records from some civil proceedings. A person may obtain an expunction of records of a mental health admission or commitment that occurred when the person was a minor. See Benjamin M. Turnage, John Rubin, & Dorothy T. Whiteside, North Carolina Civil Commitment Manual § 12.6, Expunction of Minors’ Records of Admission and Commitment (UNC School of Government, 2d ed. 2011). A person may obtain an expunction of his or her name from the “responsible individuals list,” a list of people determined by a county Department of Social Services to have abused or seriously neglected a child. See Kella W. Hatcher, Sara DePasquale, & John Rubin, Abuse, Neglect, Dependency, and Termination of Parental Rights Proceedings in North Carolina § 5.2B, Central Registry and Responsible Individuals List (UNC School of Government, 2015). Under G.S. 20-13.2(c1), a person may obtain an expunction of a revocation of a driver’s license or permit due to ineligibility for a driving eligibility certificate under G.S. 20-11(n)(1) (concerning high school attendance) if the Division of Motor Vehicles restores the person’s license or permit. Those procedures are beyond the scope of this guide.

[1] See State v. Bellar, 16 N.C. App. 339 (1972) (finding that judge had no authority to order destruction of police records in absence of statute but acknowledging possibility that in extraordinary circumstances judge might have such authority); see also Doe v. United States, 110 F. Supp. 3d 448 (E.D.N.Y. 2015) (holding that federal courts have equitable authority to order expunction of records of federal criminal proceedings in unusual or extreme cases), rev'd, 833 F.3d 192 (2016) (holding that federal district court lacked jurisdiction to consider motion to expunge conviction), petition for cert. filed, ___ U.S. ___ (Jan. 9, 2017); Wheeler v. Goodman, 306 F. Supp. 58 (W.D.N.C. 1969) (finding unconstitutional a North Carolina vagrancy statute used to prosecute hippies and ordering expunction of arrest records), rev’d on other grounds, 401 U.S. 987 (1971). For a discussion of a court’s inherent authority to order expunction of erroneously obtained sex offender registration information, see infra Sex Offender Registration and Monitoring Obligations: General Considerations for Sex Offender Requirements.

[2] In addition to the expunctions of adult criminal records discussed in this guide, a criminal defendant may ask the court to expunge a written presentence report, the record of an oral presentence report, or a sentencing plan, which may have detailed personal information about the defendant. See G.S. 15A-1333. Such an order does not expunge the conviction or charges.