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State v. J.C

Supreme Court of North Carolina

May 10, 2019


          Heard in the Supreme Court on 9 April 2019.

         On discretionary review pursuant to N.C. G.S. § 7A-31 of a unanimous decision of the Court of Appeals, __ N.C.App. __, 808 S.E.2d 154 (2017), dismissing the State's appeal from an order of expunction entered on 10 August 2016 by Judge Mary Ann Tally in Superior Court, Onslow County.

          Joshua H. Stein, Attorney General, by William P. Hart, Jr., Assistant Attorney General, and Adren L. Harris, Special Deputy Attorney General, for respondent-appellant.

          Yoder Law PLLC, by Jason Christopher Yoder, for petitioner-appellee.

          EARLS, JUSTICE.

         The petitioner, J.C., was granted an expunction of arrest, trial, and conviction records from a prior conviction and from previously dismissed charges pursuant to N.C. G.S. §§ 15A-145.5 and 15A-146, respectively. The statute authorizing expunction of his dismissed charges was first enacted in 1979 "to provide for the expunction of arrest and trial records of youthful offenders when charges are dismissed or when there are findings of not guilty." See Act of Feb. 20, 1979, Ch. 61, 1979 N.C. Sess. Laws 34. At issue here is the proper application of the statute authorizing expunction of his conviction, N.C. G.S. § 15A-145.5. This law was enacted in 2012 "to allow for expunction of nonviolent felonies or nonviolent misdemeanors after fifteen years for persons who have had no other convictions for felonies or misdemeanors other than traffic violations under the laws of the United States, this State, or any other jurisdiction, as recommended by the Legislative Research Commission." See Act of July 2, 2012, Ch. 191, 2011 N.C. Sess. Laws 901 (Reg. Sess. 2012).[1] The statute authorizes a court to order that a person "be restored, in the contemplation of the law, to the status the person occupied before such arrest or indictment or information." N.C. G.S. § 15A-145.5(c) (Supp. 2018).

         Previously the State has sought appellate review of expunction orders through petitions for writ of certiorari, which the Court of Appeals has allowed on several occasions. See State v. Frazier, 206 N.C.App. 306, 697 S.E.2d 467 (2010) (reversing grant of expunction when trial court erroneously applied statute to a conviction occurring before the effective date of the statute); In re Expungement for Kearney, 174 N.C.App. 213, 620 S.E.2d 276 (2005) (reversing order granting expunction of conviction and affirming expunction of dismissed charge); In re Robinson, 172 N.C.App. 272, 615 S.E.2d 884 (2005) (reversing erroneous expunction of multiple, unrelated offenses occurring over a period of years); In re Expungement for Spencer, 140 N.C.App. 776, 538 S.E.2d 236 (2000) (reversing order granting expunction to defendant who was over the age of twenty-one at the time of the offense).

         For the first time, in this case the State seeks to appeal as a matter of right the trial court's order granting J.C.'s expunction with respect to his conviction for the offense of indecent liberties with a child. The Court of Appeals dismissed the State's appeal, holding the State had no right to appeal the expunction order. The State filed a petition for discretionary review with this Court, as well as a petition for writ of certiorari. We granted the State's petition for discretionary review to determine whether the Court of Appeals erred in dismissing the State's appeal from an order granting expunction under N.C. G.S. § 15A-145.5. Because we conclude that the State does not have a right of appeal in orders granting expunctions under N.C. G.S. § 15A-145.5, we affirm the Court of Appeals' decision.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         On 11 June 1987, petitioner pleaded guilty in Superior Court, Onslow County to one count of indecent liberties which occurred on 24 May 1986. In exchange for J.C.'s guilty plea, the State dismissed a second indecent liberties charge, as well as an incest charge. The trial court sentenced J.C. to a three-year term, which was suspended for three years subject to supervised probation. On 11 June 2015, J.C. filed a petition in Onslow County under N.C. G.S. § 15A-145.5 seeking expunction of the offense to which he pleaded guilty. J.C. also filed a petition seeking an expunction under N.C. G.S. §§ 15A-145(a) and 15A-146 regarding the two charges against him that were dismissed.

         According to section 15A-145.5, a person who has been previously convicted of a "nonviolent felony" as defined in the statute may "file a petition, in the court of the county where [he] was convicted, for expunction of [the] . . . conviction from the person's criminal record if [he] has no other misdemeanor or felony convictions, other than a traffic violation." N.C. G.S. § 15A-145.5(c). The statute contains a number of conditions, including that the qualifying offense not have been:

(1)A Class A through G felony . . . .
(2)An offense that includes assault as an essential element of the offense.
(3) An offense requiring registration pursuant to Article 27A of Chapter 14 of the General Statutes, whether or not the person is currently required to register.
(4) Any of the following sex-related or stalking offenses: G.S. 14-27.25(b), 14-27.30(b), 14-190.7, 14-190.8, 14-190.9, 14-202, 14-208.11A, 14-208.18, 14-277.3, 14-277.3A, 14-321.1.
(7)An offense under G.S. 14-401.16. . . . .
(8)Any felony offense in which a commercial motor vehicle was used in the commission of the offense.

Id. ยง 15A-145.5(a)(1)-(8) (Supp. 2018). In the affidavit accompanying his petition, J.C. asserted that the felony for which he was convicted "[wa]s a Class H felony" which "did not include assault as an essential element of the offense" and "does not require registration pursuant to Article 27A of Chapter 14." Petitioner averred that his conviction also did not fall ...

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