NC Senate OK's yearlong pause to automatic deletion of certain criminal records
Lawmakers unanimously approved a measure that would temporarily halt the automatic removal of records of dismissed criminal casesPosted — Updated
In cases in which people have criminal charges dismissed, are proven innocent or found not responsible for alleged crimes, local officials typically delete files permanently, according to state Sen. Danny Britt, a Robeson County Republican. He said many courthouses swiftly destroy physical copies of such criminal cases and have electronic records automatically removed at midnight.
The existing system is designed to allow innocent North Carolinians to go on with their lives without the burden of a paper trail. But the current process also makes it impossible for many to get documented proof of their innocence that an employer may request of them, Britt said.
The proposed process would be like a recycle or trash bin on a typical computer. Currently, in most districts, a file is permanently removed from electronic records by default and becomes inaccessible. House Bill 607 seeks to have files placed into a system that is inaccessible to the public but would be accessible upon request to people with dismissed charges.
“Let’s say their employer has put them on suspension temporarily because of a criminal charge,” Britt said. “They go into court, the witness doesn’t show up and the case is dismissed by the [district attorney], there’s no record of that dismissal after midnight.”
If the measure were enacted and signed into law, Britt said an estimated 10,000 North Carolinians wouldn’t have their records automatically expunged, though there would still be a process in place for them to seek the permanent deletion of files.
Starting Aug. 1, there would be a 12-month halt to the automatic expungement of such documents. If a group of court administrators, district attorneys, law enforcement personnel and other groups don’t resolve issues within the current expungement process, the system North Carolina has today would resume, which would displease all sides displeased with the status quo.
If the bill were signed into law, the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts would have until March 1, 2023, to report its findings and recommendations to lawmakers.
Britt and state Sen. Don Davis, a Pitt County Democrat, hope the stick being dangled prompts swift action from the working group to keep dismissed charges, not-guilty verdicts, and not-responsible findings both accessible to relevant parties and out of the public record.
“This working group is going to really need this opportunity to try to come towards a resolution,” Davis said. “If they really need this time, then the most important thing we can do is provide protections for those who may fall in that gap period.”
The measure passed the state Senate unanimously on Tuesday and will now be considered by the state House. Britt said he plans to work with lawmakers in the opposite chamber to try to get the bill over the finish line before leaders conclude their legislative work for the year.