Expunging or Sealing Adult Criminal Records in North Carolina

In North Carolina, expunction can erase your criminal record under certain circumstances. But not all records can be expunged.

By , MSLIS · Long Island University
Updated 6/02/2023

In North Carolina, your criminal record may be expunged—that is, erased or sealed—under the circumstances described below. In North Carolina, expungement is often called "expunction."

What Is Expungement or Expunction?

In general, an expunged criminal record is essentially erased or sealed, except for a confidential file to which judges may sometimes have access. In most cases, after an expunction, you can legally say you were not arrested or convicted of a crime.

Who Is Eligible for Expungement or Expunction in North Carolina?

Often, when someone hasn't been convicted of a crime, they're eligible for expungement in North Carolina. Sometimes, people can get an expungement even if they've been convicted.

Expungement If You Were Not Convicted of a Crime

Expungement is usually available when someone hasn't been convicted of a crime, though there are exceptions.

If charges were dismissed or you were found not guilty. Your arrest record may qualify for expungement if you've been found not guilty or your case was dismissed. But expungement isn't allowed if you have a prior felony conviction.

Identity theft or mistaken identity. If charges were brought against you as a result of mistaken identity or someone stealing your identity and using your name, you can petition to have the record expunged if:

  • the charges were dismissed
  • there was a finding of not guilty, or
  • the related conviction was set aside.

Expungement If You Were Convicted of a Crime

Certain types of misdemeanors and felonies are eligible for expungement in North Carolina. Here are some of the main ones.

Nonviolent offenses. If you've served your sentence and met all related conditions (such as paying fines), you can apply for expungement after a certain amount of time has passed. You must wait five years to seek expungement for a nonviolent misdemeanor conviction, and ten years for a nonviolent felony conviction expunged. The waiting period increases when the person has had a previous conviction expunged.

However, convictions for certain offenses can't be expunged, including:

  • Class A1 misdemeanors
  • Class A through G felonies
  • offenses involving assault as an essential element
  • offenses that require you to register as a sex offender, and
  • felonies in which a commercial vehicle was used to commit the crime.

For the full list of convictions that are ineligible for expungement, see North Carolina General Statutes § 15A-145.5.

Misdemeanors involving alcohol or drugs, if you were a first offender and under 21. There are a number of circumstances under which alcohol or offenses can be expunged in North Carolina if you were under the age of 21 when you were arrested. In some cases, you must wait 12 months or two years before applying for expungement. In others, you can apply as soon as you complete probation or the case is otherwise dismissed.

Prostitution offenses. If you were arrested for or convicted of a prostitution offense, you may apply to have the criminal record expunged if you have never been convicted of a violent felony or violent misdemeanor and if:

  • your conviction was a result of having been a victim of human trafficking or sexual servitude
  • you have no prior convictions for prostitution and three years have passed since your last conviction or completion of any sentence, whichever occurred later, or
  • your case resulted in a discharge and dismissal of the proceedings against you.

DNA evidence. If you were convicted of a crime but your conviction was later reversed or dismissed or you received a pardon of innocence, the related DNA evidence may be expunged from the state DNA database.

Offenses for which you were pardoned. People who have received a pardon of innocence are eligible to have their record expunged.

How to File for Expungement or Expunction in NC

The website for the North Carolina Courts is an excellent resource on how to seek an expunction. A criminal defense lawyer can also do it for you, which is often the easiest way to get it done.

Getting Legal Help

Cleaning up your criminal history can be complicated, and the laws can change at any time. If you're not sure whether your record qualifies for expungement in North Carolina—or for advice about your personal situation—you should contact a qualified criminal defense attorney. A good lawyer can make sure you're eligible, prepare the forms, and guide you each step of the way.

(N.C. Gen. Stat §§ 90-96, 90-113.14 14-204, 15A-145, 15A-145.2, 15A-145.3, 15A-145.6, 15A-146, 15A-147, 15A-148, 15A-149 (2023).)

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