The criminal justice system exists for very important reasons — to ensure that those who break the law are fairly punished for doing so. However, there is no getting around the fact that being convicted of a crime can have life-long consequences. Conviction may hinder people’s futures, all because they may have made a mistake, or were wrongly accused. The North Carolina legislature hopes to improve that fact with recent legislation known as the Second Chance Act and the First Step Act. Combined with criminal defense, these two bills have the potential to improve the futures of low-level offenders.

First, the Second Chance Act will expunge the records of certain convicted or accused offenders. It could also apply to certain juvenile offenders, those who were found not guilty, those who had their case dismissed and more. The hope is that these people will no longer have a criminal record, and will also clear their record of any dismissed charges, meaning they will have an easier time obtaining employment, securing a loan or they may see other positive benefits to their futures.

The First Step Act is designed for those convicted of drug crimes. It gives judges more ability to take corroborating circumstances into account when determining sentences. For example, if someone is a first-time offender, a judge may decide to give that person a more lenient sentence.

The Second Chance Act has already cleared the North Carolina House and Senate and the First Step Act has passed the Senate. Governor Roy Cooper will either sign the bills into law or veto them. If both bills become law, they could have a profoundly positive impact upon the lives of many. Even so, it is of vital importance that those accused of any crime have a strategy for criminal defense. A large part of that may be working with an attorney who has extensive experience in this area of the law.