- What is an expunction?
An expunction is a legal process to remove a criminal conviction or a criminal charge from a person’s record and to seal or destroy the state’s records of the arrest, charge, and/or conviction. A person who has had an expunction granted generally cannot be found guilty of perjury if he or she denies that the arrest, charge, or conviction ever happened. However, an expunction might not provide relief from all consequences of the charge or conviction; for example, an expunction might not prevent the expunged case from being used for federal immigration decisions. You can view the statute (law) that describes the effects of expunctions here and the statutes under which expunged information can be accessed here and here.
- What is the difference between an “expunction” and “expungement”?
“Expunction” and “expungement” mean the same thing. North Carolina’s expunction statutes use both terms interchangeably.
- Who is eligible for an expunction?
There are numerous expunction statutes in North Carolina. Some allow the expunction of only specific types of offenses, like drug possession. Other statutes allow expunction of a broader range of offenses but for a smaller group of people, like persons who were under 18 or 21 at the time of the offense. Still others depend on how the charge ended; for example, there are statutes that address expunction of convictions and statutes that address expunction of charges that were dismissed or for which the defendant was found not guilty. The table below lists the statutes that govern expunction, their titles (which describe briefly the kinds of cases eligible for expunction under that statute) and provides links to the Administrative Office of the Courts’ petition forms and instruction sheets for each type of expunction. The full text of these statutes is available here
- What if I have more than one conviction?
Some expunction statutes allow for the expunction of multiple charges or convictions, but others do not. And sometimes, one charge in a case might be eligible for expunction, while a different charge in the same case is not. An attorney can advise you about your eligibility for expunction of multiple charges or convictions.
- When can I file for an expunction?
Some of the expunction statutes allow you to petition the court for expunction almost immediately after the case is over, for example, when the charges all are dismissed. Others require waiting periods, like a number of years or upon the completion of any sentence (including the final expiration of a period of probation or post-release supervision/parole). Each statute listed in the table above describes the waiting period or conditions that must be met before petitioning for expunction under that statute. If you have questions about the waiting period or your eligibility under a particular statute, you should consult an attorney for advice.
- What if I am eligible for more than one type of expunction?
For some charges and convictions, it is possible that more than one expunction statute might apply. However, there are different advantages and disadvantages to petitioning under one statute versus another. For example, if you are granted an expunction under certain statutes, that expunction will bar you from receiving a future expunction under other statutes. Other expunction statutes don’t impose that bar and therefore might be a better choice for filing your petition. If you think that you may be eligible for expunction under more than one statute, you should contact an attorney for advice and assistance.
- Where can I find more resources about expunctions?
You can find additional information, including information about eligibility requirements, from the University of North Carolina School of Government.
Filing for an Expunction
- How can I file for an expunction?
You can find the necessary forms online. Links to the petition forms for each type of expunction (and generally an instruction sheet for each petition) are provided in the table above. Some expunctions require additional documents, such as affidavits of good character from people who know you; when required for a particular expunction, those additional documents are covered in the instruction sheets.
- Where should I file for an expunction?
A petition for expunction should be filed with the clerk of court in the county where you were charged or convicted.
- What is the process for filing for an expunction?
The exact process is slightly different for each expunction statute. The general process is covered on the instruction sheet for each petition. Note that there might be some local differences in procedure from one county to the next, so the clerk of superior court can tell you if there are any local practices for steps like obtaining a judge’s signature for requesting criminal record checks (required for several types of expunction) or scheduling a hearing.
- Do I have to pay to file for an expunction?
There is generally a $175 filing fee to petition for expunction. A few expunction statutes do not require a fee, like expunction of charges that were dismissed or ended in a “not guilty” verdict, unless the dismissal was based on the completion of a diversion program or deferred prosecution agreement. If you cannot afford to pay the fee, you can ask to file without paying the fee by using this form.
- Will I have to testify in court?
For some expunctions, the judge will hold a hearing to determine whether you have “good character.” For other types of expunctions, such as expunctions of dismissed charges, the judge might decide without a hearing, based on a review of your record. The clerk of court can tell you any local procedures for scheduling a hearing.
- How long does the expunction process take?
Expunctions may take several months, depending on the time required for criminal record checks and to schedule a hearing.
- What can I do if my expunction was denied?
In some cases, you may be able to appeal the court’s decision. You should contact an attorney as soon as possible, if you are considering an appeal, because there might be a short deadline in which to do so.
- What if I am still seeing information about my charge or conviction after my expunction was granted?
If information regarding your charge or conviction is still available through North Carolina court system sources a few weeks after your expunction is granted, you can contact the clerk of court’s office for the county where the expunction was granted. If information is available through private sources, such as websites that compile criminal record information, you will have to contact those sources directly with information about your expunction. An expunction does not automatically remove information about the charge or conviction from all private sources.
- Will I receive a copy of my expunction order? Can I get a copy at a later date?
When a judge signs an expunction order, the clerk of court will provide you with a copy of the order. You cannot get a copy of an order granting an expunction later because the clerk of court and other government entities receiving notice of the expunction destroy all files related to the criminal process, including the expunction order itself. If your expunction petition was filed on or after December 1, 2017, you can request a certificate verifying a prior expunction. You can make the request of the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts by mail using this form, but you will need to swear to the application on that form before a notary or court official authorized to administer oaths before sending it to the AOC.
- Do I need an attorney to file for an expunction?
You can file for an expunction on your own, but an attorney can help you by assessing your eligibility, making sure you include all necessary documents, guiding you through the process, and representing you in a hearing, if needed. Court officials, such as judges and clerks of court, cannot provide you with legal advice about your eligibility. If you represent yourself in court, you will be expected to follow the same rules of procedure and evidence as a licensed attorney.
- Can I get a court-appointed attorney to help me with an expunction?
No, court-appointed attorneys are not available to help with expunctions.
- How can I find an attorney to help me with an expunction?
Legal Aid of North Carolina is a statewide nonprofit organization that assists some people with expunction cases. You can apply for Legal Aid representation by calling 1-866-219-5262 or by applying online. See the Finding an Attorney Help Topic for additional organizations that assist with expunctions and information about hiring a private attorney.