Good News! Criminal justice reform in NC: Records may be easier to erase, judges to get more sentencing discretion

A bill that would make it simpler to expunge nonviolent criminal records is headed for a vote on the House floor, while a proposal to give judges more sentencing discretion in drug cases is similarly advancing in the Senate.

Senate Bill 562, called the Second Chance Act, would make it easier for people with nonviolent misdemeanor convictions to have those convictions erased from their publicly available criminal record if they’ve stayed out of trouble with the law for seven years. However, if they’re charged again in the future, prosecutors and law enforcement officers would be able to look back on the expunged charges.

Not long ago, such a proposal would likely have been shunned by conservatives in North Carolina, but no longer. In fact, conservative groups from ALEC to Americans For Prosperity are joining progressive groups like the ACLU and the NAACP in pushing for the bill.

Sponsored by Sens. Danny Britt, R-Robeson, Warren Daniel, R-Burke, and Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, the bill passed unanimously in the Senate in May and won approval in the House Judiciary committee Wednesday.

McKissick said that effort isn’t a partisan issue. Around one in four adults in North Carolina has some type of criminal record, which leads to negative effects on employment rates, educational attainment, workforce availability, housing and poverty.