HB 725 “Young Offenders Rehabilitation Act” has been heard in a House committee meeting. HB 725 would “raise the age” from 16 to 18 for someone to be tried as an adult if he or she commits a misdemeanor. While the argument is raised that we need to give our children a second chance for their immature mistakes, with North Carolina’s expungement laws we already give many of them more than a second chance.
Let’s say Johnny Smith is a 17-year-old high school junior who one night he sneaks out of his house and gets into some trouble doing things that people say “every teenager does.”
Johnny is charged with a misdemeanor like second-degree trespassing. While Johnny is devastated and is now worried about his future, the question becomes, when he is 30 will he be unable to get a job because his prior record is a black mark against him? Fortunately for him, in North Carolina we do have provisions to give kids a second chance: Johnny can get his record expunged.
North Carolina allows expungement of certain records, according to NC G.S. 15A. Expungement, also known as expunction, is the legal erasure of arrest records and conviction records; officially, the crime never happened. First-time offending minors charged with misdemeanors have the opportunity to expunge their records if the crime was committed when under the age of 18. Other adult misdemeanors can be expunged if all requirements are met. Certain minor gang offenses are also eligible, along with certain drug offenses while under the age of 21.
Minors who have plead guilty to misdemeanors in a United States court of law in North Carolina, or another state, and have not beforehand been convicted of a felony, may petition the court for records expungement. This misdemeanor must have been committed while the individual was under the age of 18 and other offenses may not follow, except minor traffic infringements. Minors are also eligible for record expungement if they are convicted of a possession of alcohol misdemeanor before reaching 21. North Carolina law states that two years must pass since the conviction date before an individual may petition for expungement. Probation and community service hours must all be completed.
While researching expungement law and NC G.S. 15, I was surprised to see what this type of scenario would look like for little Johnny. I learned that there are several details that one needs to look at when looking at the issue. One thing that many people might find interesting is that whether or not a juvenile is eligible for expungement depends on how he or she was charged. When juveniles commit a string of crimes or are charged with more than one crime, they might be able to apply for expungement if their crimes were heard in one court session. There are potential avenues available to obtain multiple expungements. This would give our juveniles more than a second chance.
While people are talking about “Raising the Age” because we need to give our juveniles a second chance, it seems we may give them more than just a second chance. With expungement our juveniles have an incentive to stay out of trouble and to truly learn from their mistakes. Phil Berger Jr., President of the North Carolina Conference of the District Attorneys, said, “Most prosecutors and law enforcement officers agree that a young person should be allowed to expunge a one-time mistake if the charge is not serious. In some circumstances, however, North Carolina’s expungement law goes further than a single, youthful indiscretion.”