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North Carolina joins Oklahoma and other states in expanding expungement laws

June 17, 2020 by G. W. Schulz

Several states have automated the expungement process while Oklahoma has opted for a manual approach.

Following a unanimous vote, the North Carolina General Assembly has joined 30 other states, including Oklahoma, in passing a record number of bills over 2019 and 2020 that make it easier for people with criminal records to expunge past mistakes and move on with their lives.

How each state is choosing to implement new expungement reform laws varies. North Carolina has chosen to automatically seal records of nonviolent misdemeanors from general public view after a period of seven years. It’s doing the same for records from instances where charges were later dropped, or a defendant was ultimately found not guilty.

Utah, California, and New Jersey enacted similar so-called “clean slate” laws during 2019.

Oklahoma, on the other hand, took a more reluctant approach. It expanded the number of people eligible to have their criminal records expunged by tens of thousands, but it does not happen automatically, and those who are eligible must take a series of steps. Those acquitted of a crime or for whom an arrest occurred but charges were never filed are also eligible.

The bipartisan effort in North Carolina joins a nationwide movement that includes Oklahoma to reduce spiraling corrections costs by removing unnecessary obstacles to employment access and occupational licenses, housing opportunities and social services, student loans, and more.

One in three Americans has a criminal record, and over two-thirds of people released from prison will be arrested again in three years without intervention. An estimated 60,000 people alone in Oklahoma are haunted by felony criminal records for simple drug possession – a crime that voters have since reclassified as a misdemeanor.

Research shows that people who expunge their records are less likely to commit new crimes and enjoy a major boost in employment opportunities, salaries, and benefits. Yet many people don’t know they’re eligible for these benefits.

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