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DA encouraging more people to get criminal records cleared, drivers licenses restored

Published: Aug. 26, 2021 at 3:38 PM EDT
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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - Even if you are never convicted of a crime, an arrest on your record can negatively impact you for the rest of your life. From limiting your career prospects, to where you can live, and even where you can travel.

The Second Chance Act, which went into effect less than a year ago after unanimous approval in the state legislature, helps North Carolinians clear their records for a chance at a better life.

Andrea Davis has always been a go-getter, but several years ago, she got hooked up with the wrong guy. He was a gang member under routine police surveillance and that landed her in trouble, too.

“So anything like a tail light being out would result in me being pulled over, and having everything searched, and doing the whole nine [yards], and I just ended up accumulating a couple more charges,” Davis explained.

Before she knew it, Davis had an eight-page rap sheet. Even though many of the charges got dropped for lack of evidence, they still showed up on a background check.

“It’s very frustrating because, like I said, I have a master’s degree, I have a bachelor’s degree and I am currently trying to get my PhD, and I still have to take positions where I might not be able to utilize my degrees because of my background,” Davis said. The old charges also hindered her ability to travel after the Peace Corps selected her to go to Thailand to teach English.

“The United States will not let you leave the country if you have an active felony investigation open. I was not allowed to leave the country,” Davis said.

That’s where North Carolina’s new Second Chance Act can make a difference. A not guilty verdict or dismissed charge is automatically eligible to be expunged. In addition, people with one-time non-violent felony and misdemeanor convictions who have stayed out of trouble for at least seven years can apply for a clean slate. Prosecutors say not giving them that opportunity holds our whole society back.

“It takes away hope and options for people. If you’re locked in your community, and the only thing that you can do realistically is you’ll only be able to max your income out at $10/hour for the rest of your life, that puts you in a position of hopelessness. Why even try?” Assistant District Attorney Rosetta Royster explained of the logic behind the law.

The New Hanover County District Attorney’s Office just helped Davis clear her record, and they are encouraging the estimated 20,000 people in this county alone who are eligible for relief to apply for expungement too.

“Even one non-violent felony on someone’s record reduces their future earning potential by 40 percent a year over the course of their lifetime. Do that math for just a second. And then when you look at ineligibility for things like federal student loans, military service. When you look at not being able to live with your own family in public housing if you have that felony. These are big collateral consequences and we want to try to encourage people to come forward to get this relief so that they can enjoy full citizenship again,” District Attorney Ben David explained.

In addition to criminal record expunction, the DA’s office is also reminding people about rolling clinics to help them get their drivers licenses restored. Many people lose their licenses for reasons like not being able to afford to pay a traffic ticket, or failing to appear in court, and that can negatively impact other drivers sharing the road with them.

“One out of ten North Carolinians are driving around on a revoked license. And that’s not good for anybody because we’re talking about folks that are largely uninsured, and if you get in a wreck with them you’ll understand the full consequences of this. So on Friday we [had] 60 people that have reached out through legal aid and through the private bar and Public Defenders Office, and said we want our licenses back. And we are working with them to get their drivers licenses restored,” David said.

David’s prosecutorial district was the first in the state to host expungement clinics, which happen on a rolling basis. For information on how to get charges removed from your record, go to Newhanoverpenderda.com for more information. You can also reach out directly to Legal Aid of North Carolina, or the NC Pro Bono Resource Center.

Legal Aid of North Carolina will host an expunction event in New Hanover County the week of October 11, 2021. In order to participate, applicants should call Legal Aid of North Carolina at 866-219-5262. Legal Aid accepts applications to provide assistance with expunctions year round; however, the priority deadline for the New Hanover County event is September 8, 2021.

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