Durham County District Attorney Satana Deberry has already expunged 3,100 charges for over 400 people under the Second Chance Act.
The Second Chance Act was signed into law by North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper June 25. The law addresses unresolved gaps in North Carolina's Raise the Age law, which prevents 16- and 17-year-olds from being charged in the adult criminal justice system. After North Carolina became the last state to implement Raise the Age, an inconsistency arose in the treatment of 16- and 17-year-olds being convicted as adults.
The Second Chance Act addresses this discrepancy by allowing district attorneys to file for the expungement of this population’s “youthful convictions” prior to the enactment of Raise the Age. Previously, the law required individuals who wished to expunge their records to initiate the process themselves.
Before embarking on this effort, Deberry noted the need for reform-minded justice. “Everyone who's had their record expunged has already been held accountable. They've already served any sentence they might have served,” Deberry said.
Deberry and her staff worked with the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts to identify and list cases with potential for expungement. They investigated each record listed, and the DA’s Office worked with the Administrative Office to prepare motions to the court petitioning for expungement.
The process undertaken is crucial for a state where one in four citizens has a criminal record.
“Many of [those with records expunged] have never gotten into trouble again, and so now they can say that they are not convicted felons. They can have access to employment, as well as loans and scholarships, professional licenses—things that would have been off-limits if those felonies were still on their record,” Deberry said.
Nisha Williams, chair of the Durham County Junior Crime Prevention Council, also noted that the impact of a criminal record has strong ties with a convicted individual’s age. Previously, the law ensured that minors up to 15 years of age had their records sealed if charged with a crime.
“They didn't have to check a box when they were 18 saying, ‘Hey, I've been charged with a crime,’” Williams said.
Williams also believes that recent expungements communicate a unique message, especially for Durham’s youth.
“We as a society have now accepted fully in North Carolina that 16- and 17-year-olds shouldn't have been charged [as adults],” Williams said. “Teens are also seeing that they live in a society in which they are treated as children.”
Moving forward, Deberry hopes to build upon this momentum to continue creating clean slates for Durham’s citizens.
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“We still have thousands of misdemeanor cases that we could need to go through to see if they are eligible for expungement, especially on the juvenile side,” Deberry said. “We are going to be doing that as we move forward into 2022.”
Audrey Wang is a Trinity first-year and a staff reporter for the news department.