Your criminal record is holding you back. You already paid your fines. You did your time. You have never broken another law. You’ve expressed remorse over what happened.
Regardless, that record is a black mark that you can’t shake. It has prevented you from getting a job, for instance, or advancing your career. You feel like you have done everything right since the arrest. Do you have to suffer for that one mistake for the rest of your life?
Using an expunction
You don’t. The solution is to use an expunction — sometimes called an expungement — to clear away that record. It does not erase the record. That arrest still happened. You still got convicted. But it seals the record so that the vast majority of people who run background checks — such as future employers or landlords — will not see it. For all intents and purposes, that record is gone.
Clearing a record
You may have heard that, in some states and for some crimes, you can actually have the record erased or cleared entirely. That is true, and it is different than sealing a record.
One difference is that some levels of the government can still see your criminal record. That doesn’t stop you from renting an apartment or getting a job, but it also doesn’t mean no one knows you had a prior conviction.
Can the record get opened again?
So, say you go through with it and have your record sealed. Can anything open it back up again?
Yes. A court order can, in some situations, re-open that record so that it becomes visible once again. This is one of the main reasons you must understand when a record is sealed and not erased. If it is erased, it’s gone. If it’s sealed, it is still there, but who can see it is strictly controlled. That can change in rare situations where the court decides they need to make the record public knowledge again.
Is it difficult?
Getting your record sealed does take some time and effort, and it has historically been quite difficult. The good news, though, is that recent alterations to the law — in 2017 — made it faster and easier to seal records for those in North Carolina. It is important to understand the changes made to the law, the rights you have and the steps you need to take to seal your record.
Don’t despair. This does not have to follow you forever. You just need to know what options you have to get things back on track.