Relief from a Criminal Conviction (2023 Edition)

Types of Expunctions and Their Requirements

This guide groups expunctions of adult criminal matters into four main categories, corresponding to the main types of expunctions available under North Carolina law. The four categories are:

  • convictions and other matters based on the age of the person at the time of the offense or the age of the offense;
  • dismissals, diversions, and other dispositions that do not constitute a conviction;
  • drug offenses; and
  • offenses identified by the General Assembly as involving circumstances that lessen the defendant’s culpability or otherwise warrant relief, such as certain prostitution and gang offenses.

The guide discusses the different types of expunctions within each category, their basic preconditions, and the impact of recent legislative changes. A table with this information accompanies each type of expunction and identifies the applicable statutes and forms for requesting an expunction. The categories are not mutually exclusive. A matter may be subject to expunction on more than one ground; and, a person may receive more than one expunction if he or she meets the applicable statutory requirements. See infra Appendixes: Frequently Asked Questions (Multiple Expunctions).

The person requesting an expunction (the petitioner) must meet two basic requirements. First, the petitioner must show that the matter to be expunged is one covered by the applicable statute. For example, G.S. 15A-145 provides for expunction of misdemeanor convictions for offenses committed before a person turned 18 years old. Second, the petitioner must show that he or she meets the preconditions for an expunction of that kind—for example, having no prior convictions of certain offenses or no prior expunctions under certain statutes.

Previously, the sequence in which a person petitioned for an expunction could make a significant difference in the availability of relief. Specifically, a person could not obtain an expunction of a dismissal under G.S. 15A-146 if he or she previously obtained an expunction under another statute—for example, an expunction of a misdemeanor conviction under G.S. 15A-145. Therefore, if a person wanted to expunge cases under both statutes, the person first had to obtain an expunction under G.S. 15A-146, then petition for an expunction under G.S. 15A-145, which does not make an expunction under G.S. 15A-146 a bar. Because 2017 legislation eliminated the prior expunction bar in G.S. 15A-146, this sequencing is no longer necessary. In this example, a person can obtain an expunction under G.S. 15A-145 before or simultaneously with an expunction under G.S. 15A-146. Although a prior expunction of any kind no longer bars an expunction of a dismissal under G.S. 15A-146, an expunction under G.S. 15A-146 may still bar an expunction under other statutes. See G.S. 15A-145.4 (nonviolent felony committed before age 18); G.S. 15A-145.6 (prostitution offenses). The sequence in which a person petitions for relief, therefore, may continue to matter in those and potentially other instances. For a further discussion of expunctions under G.S. 15A-146, see infra Expunctions of Dismissals and Similar Dispositions: Dismissal or Finding of Not Guilty of Misdemeanors, Felonies, and Certain Infractions.