In the past, North Carolina’s expunction statutes provided a narrow path to relief, limiting expunctions to cases involving drug offenses committed before age 22, convictions for misdemeanors committed before age 18 and 21, and dismissals and acquittals. Beginning in 2009, the North Carolina General Assembly has given greater attention to this area of law, reorganizing and expanding the expunction statutes in recognition of the adverse impact of a criminal record on a person’s future. The opportunities for relief are greater, but a petitioner still must meet precise statutory conditions to succeed. See 2016 Expunctions Report [DPS and NCAOC Joint Report Pursuant to G.S. § 15A-160] (Sept. 1, 2016) (providing data on expunctions from 2010 to 2016; in fiscal year 2015–16, courts granted approximately 10,000 expunctions of dismissals but approximately 600 expunctions of convictions). The principal changes since 2009 are summarized below. Where these acts affect the specific criteria for an expunction, they are discussed later in this guide in connection with the type of expunction affected. (Legislation enacted before 2009 is summarized in Appendixes: Previous Legislation.)

In 2009, the General Assembly enacted S.L. 2009-577 (H 1329), referred to in this guide as the 2009 Consolidation Act. The changes made by the 2009 Consolidation Act were primarily organizational. The legislation moved the substance of the expunction provisions from the statutes governing the particular offenses at issue—for example, the statutes on drug offenses in Chapter 90 of the General Statutes—to new statutes in Chapter 15A of the General Statutes, the chapter on criminal procedure. The legislation did not rewrite the substance of the expunction provisions. The new statutes retain most of the previous language, with each type of expunction in its own statute with its own requirements and procedures. A close comparison of the old and new provisions reveals some substantive changes, however, which are discussed in this guide in connection with the expunctions affected. The 2009 Consolidation Act took effect with expunction petitions filed on or after December 1, 2009, meaning that it applies whether the offense or conviction occurred before or after that date.[1]

In 2010, the General Assembly enacted S.L. 2010-174 (H 726), which made several technical changes to the expunction statutes. This guide refers to that legislation as the 2010 Technical Changes Act. Among other things, the legislation reconciled conflicts and fixed technical errors in the 2009 Consolidation Act. It also made technical changes to a second act on expunctions enacted in 2009, S.L. 2009-510 (S 262), which did not take effect until October 1, 2010. This second act from 2009 primarily addressed the giving of notice of expunction orders to entities that have records to be expunged.[2]

In 2011, the General Assembly passed two acts affecting expunctions. In S.L. 2011-278 (S 397), the General Assembly created a new expunction opportunity for a first offender who committed a nonviolent felony when he or she was under the age of 18. See infra Expunctions on Basis of Age: Nonviolent Felony Convictions for Offenses Committed before Age 18. In S.L. 2011-192 (H 642), the Justice Reinvestment Act of 2011 (referred to in this guide as the 2011 JRA), the General Assembly made numerous changes to North Carolina’s sentencing and probation laws, including changes affecting expunctions in drug cases. (The 2011 JRA was amended by two later acts during the 2011 session, S.L. 2011-391 (H 22) and S.L. 2011-412 (H 335), but the amendments did not affect expunctions.) Most importantly for this discussion, the revised statutes allow a person to obtain an expunction of any felony drug possession offense if the person meets the requirements for an expunction. This change affects the three types of expunctions available specifically in drug cases: those involving a discharge and dismissal under G.S. 90-96, those involving not guilty determinations or dismissals, and those involving convictions. See infra Expunctions of Drug-Related Offenses.

In 2012, the General Assembly enacted two more acts affecting expunctions. In S.L. 2012-191 (H 1023), the General Assembly created a new expunction for older nonviolent misdemeanor and felony convictions (see infra Expunctions on Basis of Age: Older Nonviolent Misdemeanor and Felony Convictions) and repealed the statute authorizing expunction of older misdemeanor larceny convictions (see infra Expunctions on Basis of Age: Older Misdemeanor Larceny Convictions). The legislation also made minor changes, discussed in the applicable parts of this guide, to other types of expunctions already in effect. In S.L. 2012-149 (S 707), the General Assembly created a new cyberbullying offense by students against school employees and authorized discharge and dismissal of the case on completion of probation and, if the person qualifies, expunction. See infra Expunctions of Other Offenses: Discharge and Dismissal of Cyberbullying Offenses.

In 2013, in S.L. 2013-368 (S 683), the General Assembly revised North Carolina’s laws on prostitution and prostitution-related offenses and, in connection with those changes, added a discharge and dismissal procedure, expunction opportunity, and additional basis for a motion for appropriate relief. See infra Expunctions of Other Offenses: Discharge and Dismissal or Conviction of Prostitution Offenses. In S.L. 2013-53 (S 91), the General Assembly tightened the restrictions on the use of expunged information by employers, educational institutions, and government agencies. See supra Overview: Effect of Expunction.

In 2014, in S.L. 2014-119 (H 369), the General Assembly narrowed its 2012 authorization of expunction of older felonies under G.S. 15A-145.5, eliminating the possibility for expunction of felony breaking and entering convictions for petitions filed on or after December 1, 2014; petitions for expunctions of such offenses before that date remain valid. See infra Expunctions on Basis of Age: Older Nonviolent Misdemeanor and Felony Convictions. Also in S.L. 2014-119, the General Assembly expanded the circumstances in which a person may obtain a discharge and dismissal. Effective December 1, 2014 (see section 2(h) of act), G.S. 15A-1341 authorizes a discharge and dismissal for any Class H or I felony or misdemeanor (subject to an exception enacted in 2015, discussed below) if the defendant meets the statutory requirements. A person who obtains a discharge and dismissal under the amended statute should be able to obtain an expunction under G.S. 15A-146, which authorizes expunction of dismissals, if the person meets the requirements of that statute. See infra Expunctions of Dismissals and Similar Dispositions: Discharge and Dismissal of Misdemeanors and Class H and I Felonies.

In 2015, the General Assembly made a set of major changes and several lesser ones. The major changes, in S.L. 2015-150 (H 273), apply to impaired driving offenses. Effective for orders placing a person on probation on or after December 1, 2015, G.S. 15A-1341 bars a deferred prosecution and discharge and dismissal for an impaired driving offense under G.S. 20-138.1. Effective for petitions filed or pending on or after December 1, 2015, amended G.S. 15A-145, G.S. 15A-145.4, and G.S. 15A-145.5 bar an expunction of a conviction of an offense involving impaired driving as defined in G.S. 20-4.01(24a). S.L. 2015-40 (H 224) made minor record-keeping changes. It revises G.S. 15A-151(a) to allow law enforcement agencies, effective July 1, 2015, to view for employment purposes expunctions of prostitution offenses, and it requires clerks of court, effective for discharges and dismissals on or after December 1, 2015, to report to the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) the completion of any discharge and dismissal except one obtained under G.S. 14-458.1 and G.S. 14-458.2 for a cyberbullying offense. (Under the latter statutes, a prior discharge and dismissal does not disqualify a person from receiving a discharge and dismissal.) Effective for offenses committed on or after December 1, 2015, S.L. 2015-58 (H 879) amends G.S. 7B-2512 to require the court at disposition in a delinquency case to notify the juvenile of the possibility of expunging the records of the case under G.S. 7B-3200. Effective for charges filed on or after December 1, 2015, S.L. 2015-202 (S 233) amends G.S. 15A-147 on expunction of charges resulting from identity theft to expand the statute to cover charges based on mistaken identity and to make expunction automatic, without a petition, if the court or prosecutor dismisses the charge. Effective September 23, 2015, S.L. 2015-247 (H 173) adds G.S. 15A-150(e) to authorize the AOC to enter into agreements with various state agencies to transmit expunction information to them electronically. See also S.L. 2015-264, Sec. 5 (S 119) (technical correction only).

In 2016, the General Assembly made no changes to the state's expunction laws.



[1] See generally State v. Frazier, 206 N.C. App. 306 (2010) (holding that judge did not have authority to enter expunction order under then-existing version of G.S. 14-50.30 because the statute authorized expunctions for offenses committed on or after a specific date and the offense in question occurred before that date; court noted that General Assembly amended the pertinent provisions in the 2009 Consolidation Act to make them applicable to petitions filed on or after December 1, 2009).

[2] For a further discussion of the 2010 act, including the changes it made to clarify the 2009 acts, see John Rubin & Jim Drennan, 2010 Legislation Affecting Criminal Law and Procedure at pp. 8–9, no. 28 (UNC School of Government, Aug. 2010).