Pricey Harrison

Friday, July 08, 2005

Giving 16 and 17 Year Olds A Second Chance

Adults convicted of nonviolent felonies while they were 16 and 17 years old could seek to have their records cleared so that they could more easily get into college, get a job, or enlist in the military. The legislation would allow people who committed crimes at 16 or 17 to apply to have the convictions expunged. North Carolina is the only state in the nation that treats 16 and 17 year olds as adults for purposes of criminal convictions and is one of handful that does not currently allow such expunctions. Most offenses committed by children under 16 are handled in juvenile court, and those records are sealed. The bill would create a method in which the first-time offenders could ask a judge to have their convictions removed so that it would no longer show up in criminal background checks. The process would require a hearing at which the district attorney could respond to the petition. The judge would be authorized to call law enforcement officers to testify. The law would expire after seven years, giving lawmakers an opportunity to look back and see whether the legislation has had the intended effect. Juvenile court records already are sealed from the public, and certain offenders convicted of misdemeanor alcohol and drug charges below the age of 21 are currently allowed to seek an expunction.

Rep. Alice Bordsen, the primary sponsor of the legislation, said there are numerous safeguards in the bill that would prevent anyone who is truly dangerous from getting through the system. House bill 1084 was given final approval on Thursday by a vote of 60-51, largely on a party line vote, despite a great deal of opposition from several groups arguing the change would eliminate information in employment background checks. Those supporting the bill felt it would to give young people who have made a mistake a chance to atone and become productive citizens.

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