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Criminal record, sentence changes among new North Carolina laws

By Gary D. Robertson, Associated Press

New laws began Tuesday in North Carolina that are designed to help more people convicted of lower-level crimes and nonviolent drug trafficking get records cleared or punishments eased.

The “Second Chance Act” and “First Step Act” are among nearly a dozen state laws approved since 2019 by the General Assembly and taking effect fully or partially on Dec. 1. These criminal justice reforms received renewed interest this year following demonstrations against racial inequality after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.

The First Step Act allows a judge to deviate from mandated long prison sentences and hefty fines for drug-trafficking convictions if several conditions are met. A defendant in part has to have avoided violent activity, isn’t a repeat offender and must admit to a drug addiction problem. Supporters say the change will help people with substance-abuse issues avoid long sentences when treatment is what they need. Drug trafficking offenders sentenced before Tuesday now can also ask a judge to ease punishment retroactively.

The Second Chance Act expands the ability of people to get criminal records cleared of lower-level criminal convictions, dismissed charges and “not guilty” verdicts. These and other expunction laws are designed to remove what are deemed as youthful indiscretions that show up in background checks for employment and housing.

Parts of the law taking effect Tuesday allow people with multiple nonviolent misdemeanors to petition a court to have them removed after seven years. It also does give law enforcement agencies the ability to access the records of expunged convictions when making employment decisions about potential officers.

Another law taking effect regulates the use of delivery robots that businesses are already trying out around the world. At least 10 other states already have passed similar authorizing legislation, according to General Assembly staff. The rules would apply to delivery devices that travel on sidewalks and along roadsides. The devices must obey traffic rules, yield to pedestrians and cannot exceed speeds of 10 mph (16 kph) on sidewalks and 20 mph (32 kph) on roadsides.

Someone whose driver’s license was revoked only because the person failed to pay court-ordered fines or costs can now apply for a limited driving privilege permit that lasts up to one year. Another new law is designed to speed up the process for the spouses of military service members who’ve located to North Carolina to obtain occupational licenses.

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