The Certificate of Relief Act

In June 2011, the North Carolina General Assembly passed the Certificate of Relief Act (S.L. 2011-265).  This act was added to the Criminal Statutes of North Carolina to allow individuals with a criminal record, including felony and misdemeanor convictions, to escape some of the civil penalties that continue to haunt them after completion of their sentence.

The Certificate is meant to relieve the “Collateral Consequences” of criminal conviction.  Collateral consequences may include a mandatory bar on occupational licensure to discretionary penalties imposed by other decision-makers.  In a civil proceeding, the Certificate may be considered favorably in determining an individual’s receipt or denial of a benefit.  Additionally, the Act provides shelter for employers from negligent hiring lawsuits as a result of their hiring an individual who has received a certificate. Perhaps most importantly, the Certificate of Relief serves as evidence that the individual is not considered to “pose an unreasonable risk to the safety or welfare of the public or any individual.” See North Carolina Justice Center, Certificate of Relief From Collateral Consequences (last visited Aug. 28, 2012).

The Statutes have established a method for petitioning the court for a Certificate of Relief; however, the law is still new and it remains to be seen how well the statutory provisions play out in the courts.  Individuals who believe they qualify for these certificates may access the form online, here.  To qualify for consideration by the court, a petitioner must establish by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not), that he/she:

  • Was convicted of no more than two felonies (class G, H or I) or misdemeanors in the same session of court
  • Has no other convictions of a felony or misdemeanor (other than a traffic violation)
  • At least 12 months have passed since completion of any period of probation, post-release supervision, or parole and since all active time was served (if any)
  • Has no criminal charges pending
  • Is seeking to engage or is engaged in a lawful occupation or activity
  • Has complied with all terms of sentence and probation
  • Is not in violation of the terms of any criminal sentence (if that is not true, the failure is justified, excused, involuntary, or insubstantial), and
  • That granting the petition would not pose an unreasonable risk to the safety or welfare of the public or any individual.

This fledging avenue for relief, opportunity, and reintegration has captured the curiosity of the Civil Rights Clinic.  In the coming weeks, the Clinic will be developing a way for our members to get involved in the process of petitioning for Certificates on behalf of applicants and participating in the Certificate of Relief hearings.  We will post updates as they are available.

By: Emily Ray

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