Does Your Criminal Record Clear After 7 Years? Explained

If you have a criminal record, you may wonder if it ever goes away. Can you get a fresh start after a certain number of years?

Many people have heard of the “7-year rule” for criminal records. But what does this really mean?

The rules around criminal record expungement can be confusing. There are a lot of myths and misconceptions out there. We’re here to clear things up.

What is Expungement?

When your record is expunged, it’s erased from public view. An expungement makes it seem like your arrest or conviction never happened.

Expungement is different from sealing your record. Sealing keeps your record private but doesn’t destroy it. With expungement, it’s gone for good.

To get your record expunged, you need to petition the court. It’s not automatic. If approved, agencies like law enforcement must destroy your records.

An expungement doesn’t remove everything. For example, your mugshot may still be online. But agencies can’t share records of your expunged case.

Partial vs. Full Expungement

Not all parts of your record may qualify for expungement. For example, civil judgments related to your case may remain.

Certain convictions, like serious felonies, often can’t be fully expunged. You may only remove dismissed charges or be granted a partial expungement.

Full expungement completely wipes the slate clean. But getting everything expunged is difficult, even with minor crimes.

When Does the 7-Year Rule Apply?

The “7-year rule” refers to the period after which an arrest or conviction may become eligible for expungement. But there’s more to it than that.

This rule originates from the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). It says consumer reporting agencies can’t report arrests over 7 years old.

However, many agencies don’t follow FCRA limits. And expungement laws vary by state. The 7-year rule is more of a guideline.

In North Carolina, different crimes have different waiting periods for expungement eligibility. It’s not a one-size-fits-all rule.

Exceptions for Serious Crimes

More serious or violent crimes often can’t be expunged, no matter how long it’s been.

For example, North Carolina prohibits expunging these types of convictions:

  • Most Class A – E felonies
  • Sex offenses
  • Crimes against minors
  • Habitual offenses

Other factors may also prevent expungement, like being convicted of multiple crimes.

Waiting Periods and Good Behavior

Waiting periods before you can apply for expungement depend on your crime’s classification. For example:

  • Misdemeanors: 5 years
  • Most Class H and I felonies: 10 years

The waiting period only starts after you complete probation and pay all fines. And you must stay out of legal trouble during this time.

Juvenile Records and the 7-Year Rule

North Carolina takes some steps to protect juvenile records.

Records of juvenile adjudications are automatically expunged after court jurisdiction ends. This is often around age 16.

However, serious juvenile crimes may still appear on background checks. An expungement petition may be needed to clear your record fully.

How Criminal Records are Used After 7 Years

Just because your arrest or conviction occurred over 7 years ago doesn’t mean it disappears. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Background checks still reveal old charges. Many employers do checks going back 10+ years.
  • Arrests over 7 years old may still appear in databases. Some agencies don’t follow FCRA limits.
  • Old convictions can impact applications for housing, loans, school, and more.
  • Immigration cases may uncover old sealed or expunged records.
  • Law enforcement keeps their own records separate from court records. These may not be expunged.

Other Options Beyond Expungement

If you aren’t eligible for expungement, there are alternatives in some cases:

  • Record sealing – Sealing keeps your record private but doesn’t destroy it.
  • Non-disclosure – A non-disclosure order lets you legally deny a conviction happened. But it remains on your record.
  • Certificate of Relief – This restores some rights lost due to your conviction. It shows your rehabilitation.

The Impact of State Laws

Expungement laws are different across the 50 states. Some states make it much easier to clear your record.

For example, Pennsylvania allows the expungement of multiple non-violent misdemeanors after 10 years. North Carolina currently limits expungement to one misdemeanor.

Some states are more generous with their waiting periods as well. Montana has no waiting period for expunging deferred or dismissed charges.

Take Control of Your Criminal Record

We hope this breakdown helps you understand what you may be able to expunge from your record and when.

The rules around expungement can be complex. To learn more about clearing your North Carolina criminal record, contact the criminal defense attorneys at McMinn, Logal & Gray PLLC in Winston-Salem, NC. Their experienced attorneys are here to help you get a fresh start. 

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