Expunging a Criminal Record in New Jersey: Key Things to Note.
You have committed a crime. You were arrested or convicted for it. Relax, you can still have a clean slate by erasing your criminal record. Record expungement is making your criminal past or arrest record vanish and hidden from public eye.
In New Jersey, your crime record can be erased or sealed from the file within any court, detention or correctional facility, law enforcement, criminal or juvenile justice agency.
The effect of having your record expunged is as though the events never happened. Hence, under the law, you may say you’ve never been charged with or convicted of such crime.
The New Jersey Statutes
The New Jersey expungement law generally provides for the rules guiding expungement procedures in New Jersey. Among other things, it states in detail who and what class of crime is eligible for an expungement.
It is largely referred to as The New Jersey Statutes. If you require an expungement, you should look at the laws. This can be done with or without the aid of an attorney.
Before you file a petition
If you require an expungement, you must be sure you are eligible for one. The New Jersey statutes, Sections 2C: 52-1 through 2C: 52-32 contains the current applicable provisions on eligibility.
Once you are sure you are eligible, you must prepare and file a Petition for expungement. You must file your Petition for expungement in the Superior Court in the county where you were arrested or prosecuted. A judge then decides whether or not you should be granted an expungement order.
Two Clear-cut Instances for expungement
• Arrest & Detention (without Conviction): If you were arrested or detained but not convicted of a crime, you may file a petition for expungement on two grounds;
I. Dismissal of proceedings (If the proceedings against you were dismissed). However, if the dismissal was upon the completion of a supervisory treatment program, you MUST wait for a period of 6 months to file a petition for expungement.
II. Discharge or acquittal (If you were acquitted or discharged without any guilt found). However, if the discharge or acquittal was on the ground of lack of mental ability or of insanity, you cannot expunge your record.
• Conviction: If you were convicted of a certain class of crime, the law in New Jersey allows for expungement after you have successfully completed your sentence and waiting period.
The required waiting period based on the type of crime for which you were convicted includes;
I. Indictable offences: for indictable offences, you are ordinarily supposed to wait for 10 years. The New Jersey expungement laws which will be effective from October 1, 2018 reduces it to 6 years.
Nonetheless, you may file your petition once its 5 years and you may have it granted, if the court is satisfied that allowing expungement is in the interest of the public.
II. Municipal ordinance violations: If you were convicted for violation of a municipal ordinance, you can file for expungement after waiting for 2 years.
III. Disorderly person offences: If you were convicted for a disorderly person offence, the ordinary waiting period is 5 years.
IV. Minor drug offences: If you are a first-time criminal less than 21 year of age, you can go ahead to petition for expungement after waiting for a whole year.
Criminal records exempted from expungement
In New Jersey, all criminal record can be expunged once you fulfil the conditions. However, some classes of crimes have been exempted from criminal expungement.
Hence, you will not get a clean slate if you were convicted for any offence belonging to these classes.
• Most motor vehicles offences
• Indictable offences listed in Section 2C: 52-2 of the New Jersey Statutes. They are;
I. Serious drug crimes
II. Crimes of public officials
III. Murder and Kidnapping.
IV. Sex crimes
V. False imprisonment
VII. Child endangerment
VIII. Arson and others.
• Apart from the above, the court can also refuse to grant your petition for expungement if you have exceeded the allowable number of convictions or if your petition is wrongly filed.
Filing a petition for expungement
Your petition for expungement should be carefully handled. This is because a wrongly filed petition is enough ground for denial. For diligent filing, you should pay attention to the flowing steps.
• Have Your Records Handy: To prepare your expungement petition, you will be required to have some of the following information. They include;
i. Date of your arrest (as an adult) or the date you were taken into custody (as a juvenile)
ii. The statute(s) and the offense(s) you were arrested for, taken into custody as a juvenile, convicted or adjudicated delinquent.
iii. The specific punishment or other disposition. The date of the disposition (could be the date of the conviction or adjudication of delinquency, date of not guilty verdict or date of dismissal).
iv. The original indictment, accusation, summons, docket number, warrant number or complaint number. You are to include all, if more than one.
You can obtain the information through the county prosecutor, your attorney (If you had one when you were arrested or taken into custody), the county Criminal Case Management Office (where you were arrested or convicted) or the Superior Court Family Division Office in the county when you were arrested (where you were taken into custody).
However, if you do not have the necessary records handy, you are to request State police criminal history record (fingerprint check).
• Complete Applicable Forms: With the information you have handy, you are to complete the following forms
i. Petition for Expungement.
ii. Order for Hearing
iii. Expungement Order.
• File and Serve the completed Forms: You should note that a filing fee of about $52 is charged. Most offices do not accept personal cheques, so you should include a money order or certified cheque made out to the Treasurer, State of New Jersey
• Distribute the Filed Copies: You are to distribute each copy of the filed forms mailed back to you marked “Filed” and assigned a “Docket Number to each of the applicable agencies using a certified mail.
• Go to the Hearing: Not all counties require you to appear for the hearing. However, if your appearance is required, you are to arrive at the court on your assigned hearing date about 15 minutes early with your copies of the filed Petition for expungement, the expungement Order.
Remember to inform the clerk you are here.
• Distribute Your Finalized Expungement Order: Immediately after you receive a copy of the expungement Order signed by the judge and stamped “Filed” by the court. You are to mail a copy of the expungement Order (using a certified mail) alongside the return receipt requested, to each of the appropriate agencies.
Your criminal expungement process in New Jersey, like in California and other Jurisdictions can take about 90-120 days to be resolved. The difference in time is accounted for by several factors.
Contact a criminal law attorney
After the deed is done, tidying up your criminal record can be tricky as explained above. For your doubts on eligibility, chances of success or for advice on your personal situation as regards expunging your criminal records in New Jersey, you should get legal help by contacting a qualified criminal law attorney.
This will assist you to better understand the law and how to deal with filing of the necessary papers.