The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

March 21, 2013

Legislators mull over drug expunction laws


TARBORO — The N.C. House of Representatives on Wednesday, mulled over legislation sponsored by Rep. Marcus Brandon (D-Guilford) that would allow the expunction of certain drug offenses that could allow some former criminals to return to work.

Edgecombe County Sheriff James Knight said the bulk of the crime that his department faces is drug related. He said the majority of those that arrested were good, law-abiding citizens who took the wrong road. It is for those, Knight said, that he is for the bill.

"We are talking about people who have not committed violent crimes and can become productive members of society," he said. "Because they made a bad choice many years ago, they can't get a job because they have a felony on their record. Even if the employer wants to hire them, they will not because of the liability of hiring a felon.

"Not being able to get a job sometimes pushes them back into using drugs. I am for (the bill) and the N.C. Sheriff's Association is for it also."

House Bill 207 was filed March 4 and passed it's first reading on March 5. Before it can become law, it must be passed by the House and the Senate and ratified. According to the proposal, if it passes it would become effective Dec. 1, 2013,

If passed, a person may file a petition for the expunction of a drug offense conviction from his/her criminal record 15 years after the date of the conviction or when an active sentence, period of probation and post-release supervision has been served.

Edgecombe County Clerk of Court Carol Allen White is also for HB 207. White is the founder of "It Starts With You," a re-entry program for ex-offenders.

"I am in support of HB 207 because I am for rehabilitation of human beings so long as there are checks and balances — and it appears this bill has it," White said. "When  one makes a bad decision and serves his or her sentence and/or complies with the court order and is remorseful, why not give them a second chance?"

A stipulation in the states that the person must not have other misdemenaor or felony convictions. Another stipulation in House Bill 207 states that the person must provide proof that he/she is clean and has been clean for a period for at least one year prior to the date that the petition is filed. During that one year period the person must be tested for drugs every 30 days.

After meeting those requirements, the petitioner petition will be given to the district attorney for approval. The DA has 30 days to file an objection. If DA does not object to the petitioner's record being expunged, the court will order that the conviction be expunged from the records of the court, law enforcement agencies and state and local agencies.

If passes, there will be a $175 fee for filing the petition.

"Many people hope that one will stay in jail for the rest of their life but realistically once they serve their sentence eventually one will return home," White said. "Why not have a legal system in place to help them become successful so that they may be a productive taxpayer while promoting public safety. It costs taxpayers to house prisoners. My opinion is I believe this HB could help restore someone who is really trying to turn their life around and is truly sorry for their unwise decision."

In a related bill, Brandon co-sponsors HB 208 which could amend the labor laws to prohibit an employer from inquiring whether an applicant for employment has been convicted of criminal offense and to provide that a civil penalty may be passed against any employer who commits that unlawful act. That bill was also filed March 4 and passed its first reading March 5.