Starting in December, a broader range of people with criminal convictions in South Carolina will be eligible to have their records expunged. This dramatic change could go a long way toward helping those charged with a felony put their conviction behind them and move forward with their lives.
The new law, which passed in June and goes into effect at the end of the year, expands the conditions to be eligible for expungement significantly. According to supporters of the law, the goal was to help give South Carolina convicts a chance to find employment.
The law is an expansion of the existing South Carolina expungement law, Section 17-22-910, which allows a limited class of individuals to apply for expungement of misdemeanor charges with good behavior. It is limited only to low-level, first-time offenses that carry a maximum jail sentence of 30 days or less.
Earlier this year, the bill, House Bill 3209, was vetoed by Gov. Henry McMaster (R) on the grounds he didn't agree with any legislation that would involve allowing those with a wide range of criminal records to have their records expunged. However, both houses of the General Assembly overrode that veto, passing the measure this summer.
Why is expungement an important tool?
Getting your record expunged in South Carolina is an essential way for criminal defendants to get a chance to start over. Expungement is a court order that allows someone to remove something from their previous criminal record.
Specifically, at the outset of almost any job interview or application process, applicants are asked whether they have ever been convicted of a felony. If you have had your record expunged, you can lawfully answer, "No."
Similar questions can arise when someone wants to move into a certain apartment complex or gated community or when volunteering for certain types of activities. Expungement can mean not having to answer these questions for this the rest of your life. You will, however, need to wait a minimum of 5 years before you can apply and have had no prior charges filed against you in the last three years.
Who will qualify for expungement under the new law?
The new law allows eligibility for those with multiple convictions handed down for crimes that were closely connected. It also allows those with both simple drug possession and some distribution-level crimes to apply. Furthermore, the law is retroactive, which means that even if you were convicted long before this law passed, you can still apply for expungement.
If you have questions about getting started on your South Carolina criminal record expungement, a Columbia criminal defense lawyer at our law firm can help you.