John Rubin, a UNC School of Government professor, said some criminal charges that people have accrued in their past can be detrimental to a job search.
“Even minor criminal offenses that are on record can shadow a person if they look for work, look for housing, look for other opportunities,” Rubin said.
The process of the expunction of records begins with the filing of a petition with a court, he said.
“It can be a little complicated to figure out whether a person’s eligible, and to navigate getting that petition filed and granted — so having the clinic to assist people is very valuable,” Rubin said.
The Wake County District Attorney’s Office and Justice Served of North Carolina organized a clinic in Raleigh this week to help expunge parts of criminal records.
Many people who get their records expunged will continue to be productive citizens and will not commit any more crimes, said Diana Powell, executive director and CEO of Justice Served of North Carolina.
“Some of them did stuff when they were very young — made some bad choices, were in the wrong place at the wrong time,” she said.
Powell said many of the individuals are now older and more mature than when they committed their crime, and many of them have families.
“They can’t take care of (their families) because of this little thing that’s on their record,” she said.
The goal of expunging past criminal records is to first open up the door so people can get a fresh start, Powell said.
“The community is suffering from the criminal justice system, and (people) are not able to get jobs, not able to get housing, because of what is on their record,” she said.
But an expunction is not foolproof.
“A lot of people think that when their cases are dismissed, their record goes away, and that’s not what happens,” said Wiley Nickel, a criminal defense attorney at Wiley Nickel, PLLC.
“There’s no automatic expungement — you have to file a special expungement petition,” he said. “There’s a process to it.”
Rubin said the effects of the internet may make an expungement irrelevant because past criminal convictions can survive on the internet.
“We are in the internet age and things live on the internet, even though the official records of a conviction might be destroyed,” he said.
Despite these limitations, expunctions are still generally seen as a good thing to do, Nickel said.
“It’s a great thing, it clears it up — and if you’re eligible, our advice is always to do it,” he said. “There’s no downside to clearing up your record.”