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‘First Step Act’ & ‘Second Chance Act’ take effect

Published: Dec. 1, 2020 at 7:32 PM EST
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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - New laws are expected to benefit people convicted of lower-level crimes and nonviolent drug trafficking starting Dec. 1.

They’re called the “Second Chance Act” and the “First Step Act.”

District attorneys, district court judges, and attorneys in the East agree that qualified offenders will get a chance to start over.

Offenders with these types of criminal records may struggle to get into college, the military, or even receive student loans, but with these new laws, just like their names, they will get the first step toward a second chance.

One in four North Carolinians has a criminal record that impacts housing, employment, and other opportunities, according to The Second Chance Alliance.

Onslow County District Attorney Ernie Lee explains the “Second Chance Act,” saying, “If someone gets a criminal conviction, under certain circumstances, they may be able to get that expunged after a certain amount of time.”

Greenville attorney Keith Williams breaks down the “First Step Act.”

“Under North Carolina criminal law, drug trafficking requires mandatory minimum prison sentences. And there are very few ways to get out... if you’re convicted of trafficking,” said Williams. “Under the ‘First Step Act’ is that the judge can make certain findings, at sentencing, and give you lower sentences.”

This could be great news for qualified offenders, but Lee says it’s still a long process.

“It can take many months,” Lee said, “And here’s why: it all depends on how many people are filing those at the same time because a lot of agencies have to look at these.”

Lee says that includes law enforcement, plus there’s a lot of paperwork for you or your attorney.

“You may have to pay a small consultation fee. Sometimes we have to dig through a lot of records,” Williams said, “But I think it could be worth it... especially if it leads to an expungement.”

And District Court Judge Keith Mason agrees the law will help many offenders.

“People who are fighting an uphill battle that they’ve been charged with a criminal offense. It’s another roadblock to them getting their lives back on track,” Mason said, “So, I think it’s a very good thing.”

And if you or someone you know wants to take advantage of this, Lee says search expungement on the internet, contact a good attorney, and verify that you qualify first. And even though it takes some time, he says they prioritize these requests.

Lee also says the “Second Chance Act” does not apply to violent crimes, but offenses like property crimes and misdemeanors for example.

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