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Sealing and Expunging Criminal Records in North Carolina

A criminal record can impede employment, education, housing, insurance, immigration, financial benefits, and other necessities. Therefore, individuals convicted of crimes in North Carolina often seek relief by petitioning North Carolina Courts to seal or destroy these records. North Carolina has various laws on the expunctions of some adult criminal records and juvenile delinquencies. However, not all criminal records can be expunged. According to provisions set in the NC General Statutes, conditions by which convicted parties may request their records be sealed or expunged include:

  • Certain misdemeanors or felonies committed before 18/22 years of age
  • “Not guilty” dispositions with no prior convictions
  • First-time convictions of nonviolent offenses
  • Five years following the conviction or completed sentences of nonviolent misdemeanors
  • Ten years after the conviction or completed sentences of nonviolent felonies

The Difference Between Sealing and Expunging Criminal Records

When a criminal record is sealed, it is restricted from public access. The records still exist, but no individual or entity can access them unless permitted by court order. When a criminal record is expunged, all physical and electronic copies of the record are destroyed permanently.

What Crimes Can Be Expunged in North Carolina?

Article 5 of NC General Statutes establishes several conditions under which criminal records may be sealed or expunged, including the types of crimes under this purview. Crimes that can be expunged in North Carolina include:

Underage and first-offender crimes:

  • Non-traffic misdemeanor convictions under 18 years of age
  • Misdemeanor possession of alcohol convictions under 21 years of age
  • Certain gang offenses under 18 years of age
  • Drug charges that were dismissed or the defendant acquitted under the age of 21
  • Toxic vapor or drug paraphernalia offenses that were dismissed or the defendant, acquitted under the age of 21
  • Nonviolent felony and misdemeanor convictions under the age of 18 with no prior convictions other than traffic violations
  • Juvenile adjudication when charges are remanded to a district court

All ages:

  • Nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors
  • Prostitution offenses
  • Convictions after pardons of innocence
  • Certain offenses committed by human trafficking victims
  • Dismissed or not-guilty criminal charges (misdemeanors felonies, or infractions) prior to December 1, 1991
  • Dismissed or not-guilty charges of identity theft or mistaken identity
  • DNA records, after the dismissal of charges upon appeal or pardon of innocence

How to Expunge Criminal Records in North Carolina

Eligible parties may begin the expungement process of their criminal records by visiting the North Carolina Judiciary’s website for applicable petition forms. These forms are available on the forms page of the website. It is crucial to use the specific petition form that fits the statute under which expungement is possible for the criminal record. Some forms may require additional documents. After completing the form and attaching the necessary documents (if applicable), applicants may file it with the Clerk of Court in their county of arrest. However, it is essential to contact the clerk beforehand to inquire about filing procedures as this may differ by county. The fee for filing a petition is $175; however, not all expunctions have filing fees. Individuals who cannot afford the set amount may request to file a Petition to Proceed as Indigent. Expunctions usually take several months to approve as the process involves forwarding to various state agencies and, in some cases, appearance before a judge to determine good character. As a result, an applicant may opt to hire an attorney in this regard. The Clerk of Court can also assist with expungement procedures.

Once an expunction order is approved, the Clerk of Court furnishes the applicant with a copy of the order. It is not possible to obtain this order afterward as it will be destroyed. However, parties who filed petitions on or after December 1, 2017, may request and obtain verification certificates of former expunctions from the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts (NCAOC). This request may be mailed using the Application For Certificate Of Verification Of Prior Expunction Form. For denied petitions, the applicant must contact an attorney immediately if they choose to appeal, as there is a limited window to do so.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching more straightforward, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that person resides in or was accused in.

Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

How to Seal a Criminal Record in Carolina

In North Carolina, sealing a criminal record is the same thing as expunging it. Interested parties may use the expungement process to clear up their records, provided the records are eligible for sealing according to the state’s expungement laws.

Do Sealed Records Show up In North Carolina Background Checks?

No. Sealed or expunged records do not show up in North Carolina background checks. Once a criminal record is expunged under provisions set in NC General Statutes, the record ceases to exist. An order is issued from the presiding court to all public agencies who hold these records to destroy all physical and electronic records. On the rare incident that an expunged record shows up from a public agency, the individual may contact the clerk of the court’s office in the county of expunction to make a report. However, the expunction order may not remove this information from private sources who already had those records. If the record showed up from a private agency, the subject of the record might contact the agency to request the record be brought down.

It is still possible for some charges on a criminal record to appear if the expungement order did not cover those charges. This may occur as a result of multiple charges on a record or when those charges are not expugnable by law.

Who Can See Sealed/Expunged Criminal Records in North Carolina?

According to Article 5, Chapter 15A–153, when a criminal record is sealed or expunged in the state, all arrests, convictions, and charges are destroyed from the record. However, information on expunged records can still be accessed by eligible parties. The North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts (NCAOC) maintains a confidential file containing the names of people who have received expunctions. This information is available to judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement agencies, as given by Article 5, Chapter 15A–151, and 15A–151.5 of NC General Statutes.

How to Obtain Sealed Records in North Carolina

It is not possible to obtain sealed or expunged records in North Carolina. At most, what can be obtained, as seen in Article 5, Chapter 15A–151, and 15A–151.5 of NC General Statutes, are names of individuals who received expunctions and petitions that were granted.

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