If you have been arrested or convicted of a crime in New Jersey, you may simply want to move on with life without a criminal record haunting you in the future. It is true in many respects that decisions made earlier in life are not reliable indicators of future behavior. Unfortunately, many people still see trouble in a criminal record. Certain employers may choose to pass you by, rental agencies may disqualify you and military recruiters can be particularly sensitive about criminal records. In an effort to promote ex-offender re-entry back into the community, the law allows some criminal records to be expunged.
An expungement is the formal procedure for removing and isolating a person’s criminal file within the criminal justice system. The New Jersey Criminal Code establishes specific requirements for the removal of criminal history records, including arrest records. Essentially, a defendant can petition the court to order the removal of information stemming from arrests, detention records and all related proceedings that did not lead to a finding of guilt. If criminal charges were dropped, a not guilty verdict was rendered or a conviction was overturned on appeal, a defendant may be eligible to have all records relating to the prosecution destroyed.
Benefits of an Expungement
Since criminal records are a matter of public record, they are available for anyone to view. Once an expungement is granted, the court issues an Administrative Directive to segregate the records and prevent them from being accessible. If they are not available to the public, information brokers and other entities that perform background checks may not access these records.
As such, expungements may allow defendants to decline to disclose the arrest, and the subsequent prosecution, of the crime expunged. This may help greatly in applying for jobs, seeking admission to college (and applying for scholarships) and pursuing the future.
Aside from not guilty verdicts and dismissals, expungements are also available for those who have been convicted of certain crimes and have fulfilled all the terms of their respective sentences; including disorderly person’s offenses, petty offenses, municipal violations and certain felonies.
The court considers a number of factors in determining whether an expungement is appropriate. This includes whether the applicant successfully completed probation or their supervised release program, whether all fines and penalties have been paid, and whether the applicant has had subsequent arrests or criminal convictions.
Expungement is not available for defendants convicted of a number of violent crimes, including criminal homicide, aggravated sexual assault, robbery and kidnapping. The same applies to crimes against children. In addition, motor vehicle violations, such as driving while intoxicated (DWI), may not be expunged. Further, those convicted of crimes while holding public office in New Jersey may not seek to have their records expunged, if the crime “touched” their public position.
Despite being able to have your record sealed, there are limited circumstances where certain licensing boards and agencies may still be able to review and consider your criminal convictions. For example under New Jersey statutory law, state agencies possessing criminal records can still use the records while there is a pending petition for expungement. Moreover, state licensing agencies, such as the Real Estate Commission and Department of Insurance, are not considered law enforcement agencies, so they are not required to remove criminal convictions from their records after a conviction has been expunged – thus they are able to continue using the records.
When to Seek an Expungement
If a criminal case is dismissed, it may be possible to obtain an immediate expungement, especially if it was not conditioned upon completing a diversion program. A person may also seek an expungement immediately following an acquittal or discharge without a finding of guilt. If, however, the charges were dismissed pursuant to a supervisory treatment program, the person must wait six months following the dismissal before seeking an expungement.
This article is intended to serve as a basic overview of New Jersey law regarding expungements and should not be considered legal advice. An experienced criminal defense attorney can answer further questions about the process and provide specific advice regarding your eligibility.