Expungement in New Jersey
The past can be a difficult place to revisit, and the consequences of our decisions often make it hard for us to move forward. In particular, if you have been convicted of a crime in New Jersey, you may feel especially stuck. Even after doing your time, your criminal record still remains public ––potentially hindering your ability to gain meaningful employment, as many employers will conduct background checks.
It’s easy to feel disheartened by such lifelong ramifications, but we must remember that our greatest strength lies in our resiliency. No matter how painful our experiences may prove to be, nothing can completely erase our capacity for growth. Ultimately, we all possess the power to evolve and create a better life.
Fortunately, an experienced NJ criminal lawyer can assist you with the expungement process. Although your criminal conviction may loom large, its impact on your future doesn’t have to be permanent. With an understanding of the law and determination to take control of your life, you can find new opportunities to shape your own destiny.
How Can a Criminal Record Negatively Affect Me in New Jersey?
A New Jersey criminal record can have far-reaching consequences that adversely affect you for the rest of your life, whether you were convicted of a serious felony like illegal handgun possession or pleaded guilty to a disorderly person’s offense like simple possession of marijuana, the arrest and conviction will probably appear on your record. A record showing that you were arrested and convicted could very well keep you from achieving your professional and financial goals in the future because employers will have access to this information via background checks and simple online searches. Not only can this make it difficult for you to obtain a new job, but it can also make it hard for you to maintain your current job if your boss or co-workers learn about your past.
The negative consequences of a criminal record go far beyond your job situation and finances. If you have an arrest or a conviction in your past and do not take steps to remove that information from your record, several other areas of your life could be negatively affected:
- Can’t Get Student Loans: A criminal record can seriously limit your options for securing federal loans if you choose to pursue higher education. That is because the federal government typically bars convicted felons from receiving college or grad school loans.
- Can’t Teach or Work with Children: If you want to be a teacher in New Jersey, you cannot have a criminal record. This is because rules bar convicted felons from working with children. Moreover, you could be prohibited from volunteering or working with children in any capacity because of your criminal record.
- Can’t Adopt a Child: Many families looking to adopt a child in New Jersey have learned that adoption agencies are reluctant to even consider an application when one of the prospective parents has an arrest or conviction on their record.
- Can’t Own a Handgun: New Jersey makes it almost impossible for an individual to secure a handgun license if the applicant has a criminal conviction on their record. Since all gun owners in NJ are required to obtain a New Jersey firearms identification card, your prior arrest or conviction could bar you from legally owning a firearm.
- Can’t Rent a Home: Many landlords run background checks on their prospective tenants. When your landlord sees that you have an arrest or conviction on your permanent record, they may view you negatively and find a reason not to rent to you.
- Embarrassment: The truth is that it can be embarrassing to have your past mistakes broadcast to the rest of the world. Your friends, family members, co-workers, neighbors, and anyone else in your life may learn about an arrest or conviction that occurred years ago – and this could cause your personal life to suffer.
What Is an Expungement?
When you get arrested and charged with a crime in New Jersey, the arrest will show up on your permanent record. Similarly, when you are convicted of a crime in NJ or plead guilty to a crime in NJ, the conviction or guilty plea will also show up on your permanent record. However, the term “permanent record” is somewhat misleading – because your record can be altered under the right circumstances. New Jersey law offers a path for many people to have the history of their arrest or criminal conviction “expunged” from their record. So, what exactly does it mean to expunge a conviction?
One misconception about expungement is that it will remove an arrest or conviction from the individual’s record. This is not technically true. When you file for and are granted, an expungement in New Jersey, your criminal record will be blocked from view by most people. Although certain law enforcement and other government personnel might still be able to see that you were previously arrested or convicted of a crime, that information will be unavailable to the vast majority of people. Arrest records, mugshots, trial history, and any record of a criminal conviction or guilty plea will be removed from public view. The end result of an expungement is that the record of your arrest or conviction will be functionally erased – even if it isn’t technically erased. This means that your arrest will not be visible in most cases. Also, you will not need to disclose your expunged record on a job application.
How Do I File for an Expungement in New Jersey?
The process for expunging an arrest or conviction from your record can be extremely complicated and often involves a great deal of paperwork, with official documents needing to be filed and government agencies needing to be notified in order to complete the expungement.
Although it is possible to file for an expungement on your own, doing so without the assistance of a knowledgeable attorney is not advised.
It has been proven time and time again that working with a qualified lawyer significantly improves a petitioner’s chances of having their petition for expungement granted. The bottom line is that you do not want to take any chances of incorrectly filing paperwork, missing a deadline, or neglecting some other crucial step in the expungement process.
The best first step you can take when considering filing for an expungement in New Jersey is to speak with a qualified criminal defense attorney with experience handling expungements and who can assist you throughout the legal process.
When Can I File for an Expungement in NJ?
Your eligibility for an expungement will depend on the type of crime you were charged with, as well as the amount of time that has passed since you were convicted. If you were arrested but never convicted, you can seek an expungement immediately. However, if you were arrested and later convicted of the crime, you may have to wait a certain amount of time before petitioning to have the conviction expunged.
On October 1, 2018, a new law took effect in New Jersey that significantly reduced the waiting periods for an expungement. The law also raised the total number of criminal offenses, disorderly persons offenses, and petty disorderly persons offenses that a person can have expunged from their record.
NJ expungement waiting periods
These are the current waiting periods for expungement in NJ:
- Felonies: Indictable felonies tend to be more serious crimes that endanger others, so NJ courts typically require a convicted offender to wait six (6) years before petitioning for an expungement. However, it may be possible for a skilled attorney to get this waiting period reduced to five (5) years through what is known as an “early pathway” to expungement.
- Disorderly Person Offenses: For a disorderly person’s offense or petty disorderly persons offense, also known as a “misdemeanor,” you must wait five (5) years before seeking an expungement.
- Municipal Ordinances: A conviction or guilty plea on a local ordinance, such as a noise violation, comes with a waiting period of two (2) years before you can file for an expungement.
- Juvenile Offenses: Juvenile offenders must wait the same amount of time as adult offenders convicted of the same offense. This means that most juvenile offenses have a waiting period of five (5) years for expungement.
- Underage Drug Offenders: There are special laws for first-time drug offenders under 21 when they committed the drug offense. Depending on the circumstances, it may be possible to file for expungement after just one (1) year.
It is important to note that certain crimes and offenses cannot be expunged in NJ. These include serious drug crimes like cocaine trafficking and heroin distribution, felony sex offenses like sexual assault and child endangerment, official misconduct by public officials, traffic violations and DUI offenses, and restraining orders. However, most minor crimes and disorderly persons offenses are eligible for expungement in New Jersey.
Exceptions to New Jersey’s Expungement Statute
New Jersey’s Expungement Statute (N.J.S.A. 2C:52-1) was conceived to give its citizens a new lease on life by removing the social and economic stigma that can result from a conviction or arrest of a criminal offense.
Despite the Statute’s noble purpose, several exceptions can cause a court to deny an expungement application. They follow:
1. An expungement application can be denied if the applicant has failed to satisfy the statutory prerequisite. Thus, if the application to expunge a disorderly persons offense is filed five years priorto the completion of the sentence, including the payment of all fines and the completion of probation, the application will be denied.
2. People who have been previously convicted of certain crimes can not obtain an expungement for those crimes. Those crimes include murder, death by auto, kidnaping, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, robbery, aggravated arson, perjury and endangering the welfare of a child. In addition, you cannot obtain an expungement for a conviction relating to the sale or distribution of drugs. If a person has been pardoned for one of these offenses, this statutory bar does not apply.
3. A person can not obtain an expungement of a crime, is he/she has been convicted of a prior or subsequent crime or more than two disorderly persons or petty disorderly person. A person can not obtain an expungement of a disorderly persons or a petty disorderly persons conviction, if the person has been convicted of a prior or subsequent crime or three subsequent disorderly persons offenses or petty disorderly persons offenses. These disqualifications relate to convictions in any jurisdiction.
4. A person holding a public office cannot obtain an expungement, if he crime involved the public office. This disqualifier does not apply to disorderly persons offenses.
5. Where the need to make the defendant’s criminal records available outweighs the general underpinning of the expungement statute, an expungement request may be denied. The party objecting to the expungement has the responsibility of demonstrating the need to continue to maintain the conviction of the public record.
6. Where the subject matter of the expungement is relevant to civil litigation between the applicant and any governmental agency, an expungement request can be denied.
7. A prior expungement of a crime or three disorderly or petty disorderly offenses will bar subsequent requests for an expungement.
8. A person can not obtain an expungement if he/she has previously received the benefit of supervisory treatment or other diversionary program (i.e. P.T.I.)
9. A prior expungement will not bar a request to expunge an arrest record that did not result in a conviction or an expungement of a municipal ordinance conviction.
10. Once an expungement order has issued, the arrest or the conviction subject of the order with certain exceptions are erased from the defendant’s record. Thus, if the defendant has successfully obtained an expungement he/she may respond “no” to an application that questions whether he/she has ever been arrested or convicted. Law enforcement agents who have received inquiries about prior arrests and convictions are required to answer that “no records exist” if an expungement has issued. Simply stated, an expungement means the extraction and isolation of records relating to criminal convictions. It does not mean that documents relevant to prior criminal encounters are deleted or erased. They are simply removed from the government’s records and isolated with other protected records. These records can include the complaint warrant, processing records, fingerprints and judicial dockets. Notably, however, a person who has received the benefit of an expungement must disclose the expungement seeking employment with a judicial branch or a law enforcement or correction agency.