Resolving Old Cases and Expunging Others

Lady Liberty GavelThe holidays are a time to take stock: figure out how the last year has gone, and maybe think about taking care of an old legal issue, or start thinking about getting a new job.

We tend to see a lot of calls around the holidays from people who want to sort out an old traffic ticket or criminal case that was never properly resolved. Or from people looking for an expungement.

Here are some rules of thumb.

Old Criminal or Traffic Cases

If you’re now thinking about rectifying an old criminal case or traffic ticket that was never actually resolved, here are some things to think about.

First, depending on the case, you may not be required to come back to Wake County. However, in the event you don’t come back, you probably will need to plead guilty, although there’s a possibility of some better resolution depending on the original charge, the length of time that has passed, the reason you didn’t resolve the case originally, and your ability to show compliance with the circumstances that led to the offense.

For instance, if the offense was alcohol-related (but not a DWI), and you can show that you have completed alcohol-related substance abuse treatment, then it is possible for a more favorable outcome, depending on the facts of the case.

Note: The Wake County District Attorney will generally not simply dismiss an old DWI that was never properly resolved, no matter how old, and no matter the circumstances. Obviously there are rare exceptions, and you should talk to an attorney, but the District Attorney will essentially prevent the case from being reinstated until you agree to plead guilty. If you don’t agree to plead guilty, and the case remains in “VL” status, the North Carolina DMV will continue its hold on your driver license, and prevent you from getting a license in nearly all other states.


While you may want to talk to an attorney to determine whether you are eligible for an expungement, some general rules of thumb are in order:

First, assault convictions are not expungeable. If you were convicted (whether by plea or by trial) of a crime whose element is an assault, you cannot have that case expunged in North Carolina.

Second, multiple convictions are (probably) not expungeable. North Carolina law requires that the arrest and conviction dates of all convictions that are otherwise expungeable, be the same in order for you to be eligible to expunge the conviction. This is somewhat complicated, so calling a lawyer may help.

Third, multiple expungements are generally not allowed. North Carolina has a one-expungement rule in general. Although there are some ways to get around this rule, if you’ve ever had an expungement before in the same category for which you currently seek an expungement, you are probably not eligible.

Other relief may be available, but that relief is a long-shot and expensive. You may be eligible for a Motion for Appropriate Relief, but these are generally costly in terms of legal fees, and long-shots.

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Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.