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Following 'Second Chance Act,' Durham DA's Office continues expunging criminal records

Durham County Courthouse
Carol Jackson
File, WUNC
Durham County has continued expunging records under the Second Chance Act law.

Updated 3:30 p.m., Dec. 10

Durham County's District Attorney says about 400 more people have had charges cleared in accord with the "Second Chance Act."

That act, which was signed into law in June of 2020, clears a path to expunge non-violent criminal charges and offenses from the records of individuals who were charged as adults when they were 16-and-17-years old.

Durham District Attorney Satana Deberry says some of the most common of the 1,400 charges her office has cleared are simple drug possession or drug paraphernalia possession, larceny and breaking and entering.

"Long after someone has completed their sentence, or their probation, or whatever their accountability was for that, a criminal record can continue to undermine their ability to get employment, to get housing or childcare, if they were going back to school it would impact their ability to get scholarships and loans," Deberry said.

The bipartisan law passed after another North Carolina law ended the practice of automatically prosecuting 16 and 17-year-olds as adults in 2019.

Deberry said putting children in the adult criminal justice system has disproportionately harmed people of color, as the rate of incarceration has increased over recent decades.

She said the expungements are long overdue, but cannot make up for the opportunities lost and lives changed.

Deberry said expunging these records, which also includes clearing charges that were dropped, is in line with her perspective on enforcing justice.

"We want to focus on those things that keep us unsafe, those public safety risks that involve violence to each other," Deberry said. "And these are not those things."

Deberry said clearing people's records will help make them eligible for jobs, housing and college scholarships.

So far, the Durham District Attorney's Office has cleared the charges for 660 individuals who were charged as adults when they were 16 and 17-years old. The office expects to submit another 8,000 petitions for misdemeanors to be expunged, dating back to 1979.

Starting December 1, 2021, another portion of the "Second Chance Act" took effect which allows for automatic expunctions of charges that were dismissed or resulted in a not guilty verdict, regardless of age.

WUNC's Laura Pellicer contributed to this report.

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that the Second Chance Act took effect Dec. 1, 2021. In fact, the Act took effect when signed in June 2020. One portion of the Act regarding automatic expunction took effect Dec, 1, 2021.

Cole del Charco is an audio producer and writer based in Durham. He's made stories for public radio's All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Marketplace. Before joining Due South, he spent time as a freelance journalist, an education and daily news reporter for WUNC, and a podcast producer for WFAE in Charlotte.
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