News & Resources

Background screening fears prompt increase in criminal record expungement requests

Jun 30, 2011 Matt Roesly

The number of requests from North Carolina citizens to expunge their criminal records has dramatically risen over the past decade, the News & Observer reports. According to the news source, the increase is thought to be due to the economic downturn. Members of the public are eager to erase their criminal records for fear that their pasts will be uncovered by potential employers' background checks, which could cost them a job opportunity. "When jobs are scarce and firms are flooded with applications, they are looking for easy ways to screen people out," John Quinterno, a labor expert representing Chapel Hill-based South By North Strategies, told the news source. According to the newspaper, more than 76,000 people have had their records expunged since the turn of the century. The number of expungements granted each year has grown from just under 4,300 in 2000 to more than 11,500 last year. The upward trend is set to continue with North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue's recent ratification of a law enabling citizens who were convicted of non-violent offenses at ages 16 and 17 to apply for their records to be sealed. The news source's analysis of the state's criminal database suggests that more than 10,000 defendants convicted between 2006 and 2010 will be eligible to apply. The bill to extend expungement privileges to young offenders was passed partially in response to the fact that North Carolina is one of just two states in the country that charges 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. "If they had been treated like a child in court like they are in other states, they could start anew," Senator Doug Berger, a Youngsville Democrat who championed the bill, explained to the news source. "But in North Carolina, we've let this past mistake follow them around for the rest of their lives." Other states have already modified laws that treat teenagers as adults. Last year, Connecticut stopped regarding 16-year-old defendants as adults, and plans to extend this to 17-year-olds next year. Illionis recently elected to begin transferring certain low-level offenders under the age of 18 into its juvenile system, and Massachusetts lawmakers introduced a bill to raise the age of adulthood in matters related to crime earlier this year, according to the website for the Legal Aid Society. With Wisconsin and North Carolina considering similar allowances, New York may be the only state that prosecutes 16-year-olds as adults by the end of the year.