Legislation supported by an unlikely alliance of progressive and conservative advocates moved one step closer to final passage this morning. The Second Chance Act, a bipartisan “clean slate” bill that would automatically expunge criminal charges that are dismissed or disposed “not guilty” after July 1, 2020, and allow individuals to petition for expungement of all nonviolent misdemeanor convictions after seven years of good behavior, won unanimous approval from the House Judiciary Committee. The measure, which passed the Senate unanimously in May, will now move on to the House Rules Committee for final review before heading to the House floor.
Today’s committee hearing on the bill highlighted what may well be an unprecedented coalition in recent years at the General Assembly. Supporters of the bill include such arch-conservative groups as Americans for Prosperity, ALEC Action, the NC Chamber and Koch Industries (which provided testimony at today’s hearing) as well as progressive groups like the North Carolina NAACP, the ACLU of North Carolina and the NC Justice Center (Policy Watch’s parent organization). The bill also won support from the state Conference of District Attorneys, which also voiced its support this morning.
While some committee members expressed concerns at today’s hearing about potential logistical demands that large numbers of expungement actions could place on clerks of court and other justice system officials, no one spoke against the objectives of the bill, which stands in marked, even stunning, contrast to the rhetoric of past years in which lawmakers of both political parties frequently competed to demonstrate who could be the “toughest on crime.”
The following description of the bill is from a fact sheet distributed by bill supporters:
HOW THE SECOND CHANCE ACT/SB 562 PROVIDES CLEAN SLATE RELIEF
- AUTOMATIC RELIEF. A misdemeanor or felony charge that is dismissed or disposed “not guilty” on or after July 1, 2020, will be automatically expunged. (Exception: a felony charge that is dismissed pursuant to a plea agreement that results in any conviction)
- PROVIDES EXPUNCTION RELIEF FOR CONVICTIONS OF OFFENSES TREATED AS JUVENILE OFFENSES UNDER RAISE THE AGE. A person or prosecutor will be able to petition for expunction of all misdemeanor and Class H or I felony convictions that occurred when a person was ages 16 or 17 and prior to Dec. 1, 2019 (the effective date of Raise the Age).
- PROSECUTOR-INITIATED RELIEF. A prosecutor may petition for expunction of dismissed charges and charges disposed “not guilty” and “Raise the Age” convictions (see above).
- EXPANDS ELIGIBILITY TO MULTIPLE NONVIOLENT MISDEMEANOR CONVICTIONS. Current law provides for expunction of a first-time nonviolent misdemeanor after 5 years of good behavior and a first-time nonviolent felony after 10 years of good behavior. The PCS to S562 would expand expunction eligibility by allowing an individual to petition for expunction of all nonviolent misdemeanor convictions after an extended “good behavior” wait period of 7 years.
- PRESERVES AND EXPANDS ALL “SAFETY VALVES” THAT EXIST IN CURRENT LAW. District Attorneys and victims are provided notice of a petition for expunction and can appear at the hearing. If a person re-offends after having a conviction expunged, the expunged conviction is treated as a prior conviction for all purposes of criminal prosecution and sentencing. A person is disqualified from expunging a nonviolent misdemeanor or felony if the person has ever been convicted of any offense not considered a “nonviolent misdemeanor or felony” under GS 15A-145.5(a).
- S562 DOES NOT CHANGE THE DEFINITION OF “NONVIOLENT” MISDEMEANOR OR FELONY. Current expunction laws and S562 disqualify the following convictions, among others, from being expunged under GS 15A-145.5: (i) A Class A through G felony or a Class A1 misdemeanor, (ii) any offense that includes assault as an element of the crime, (iii) any offense requiring registration pursuant to Chapter 14, Article 27A, whether or not the person is currently required to register, (iv) several enumerated sex-related and stalking offenses, (v) any felony offense in Chapter 90 that involves heroin, methamphetamines, or possession with intent to sell cocaine, (vi) felony breaking and entering of any building, motor vehicle, or boat, (vii) crimes committed because of the victim’s race, color, and religion, and (viii) impaired driving offenses.
Click here to read the official legislative staff summary of the bill as it was presented this morning. At this point, the only question regarding the measure’s final passage would appear to be whether it can win final House approval (along with Senate concurrence with a minor amendment added in the House committee this morning) before lawmakers lower the curtain on the 2019 session. Stay tuned.