News: CJ Exclusives

Senate passes bill giving youthful offenders second chance

On the eve of the North Carolina General Assembly’s scheduled crossover deadline — the calendar mark when the House and Senate stop considering most legislation which hasn’t passed the other chamber — the Senate pushed through a measure to ease burdens for people with minor juvenile offense records.

Senate Bill 562, “The Second Chance Act,” unanimously cleared the Senate May 8. The bill expands expunctions, the court-ordered erasure or concealment of criminal convictions or charges on a person’s record, for crimes committed by a 16- or 17-year old. S.B. 562 also creates automatic expunctions for criminal charges that have already been dismissed or acquitted.

The bill, a bipartisan effort to expand relief for those not covered under 2017’s “raise the age” legislation, gives people who made youthful mistakes a chance to clear their records of misdemeanors and minor class H and I offenses such as possession of drugs, breaking and entering, or larceny of property.

Violations involving motor vehicles, drunk driving, and sexual offenses aren’t eligible for expungement under S.B. 562. Expunctions also don’t apply to incomplete sentences.

S.B. 562 is a jobs bill for people whose past is unfairly blocking them from hire, said Sen. Danny Britt, R-Robeson, a primary sponsor.

The bill is “narrow in scope and application to those who are deserving,” Sen. Floyd Mckissick, D-Durham, told fellow lawmakers during a brief floor debate. McKissick, along with Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke, is also a primary sponsor of the legislation.

“Everyone is subject to the rule of law, but those who have served their time deserve the opportunity to turn their lives around without the burden of these low-level convictions on their permanent record, hindering them from getting into college, joining the military or getting jobs,” Britt, Daniel and McKissick said in a joint statement. “This bill frees individuals from this unwarranted and unnecessary burden and gives them a second chance to become a productive member of society.”

S.B. 562 builds on the bipartisan support for North Carolina’s “raise the age” law, which ensured 16- and 17-year olds charged with minor crimes no longer will be punished as adults in the state’s criminal justice system.

That law, which becomes effective later this year, received significant funding in the House’s recently passed budget proposal.

S.B. 562 now heads to the House, where it could be considered at any time during the rest of the 2019-20 legislative session.

As the Wednesday session adjourned, Senate leaders announced they wouldn’t consider any bills for votes Thursday, so crossover arrived a day earlier than scheduled.