New Law Allows Expungements Sooner

John Roberts, Esq.
Arseneault & Fassett, LLP

In April, people who have been convicted of criminal offenses in New Jersey will be able to apply to have their criminal records expunged sooner than ever before. New legislation takes effect on that date, reducing the waiting periods for eligible indictable offenses and disorderly persons offenses.

Now, people who were convicted of an indictable offense (commonly referred to as a felony) will be eligible to apply for an expungement just five years after they complete their sentence — whether that is being released from incarceration, probation, or parole, or the payment of a fine — whichever occurs last. Under the previous law, the waiting period was ten years.

Under the new law, those who have been convicted of a disorderly persons offense or petty disorderly persons offense (otherwise known as misdemeanors) would become eligible to apply for expungement three years after their sentence has been completed. Under the old law, the waiting period was five years.

These changes represent a great opportunity for those who have been involved in the criminal justice system to get a “fresh start” in life and put their previous mistakes behind them. A criminal record can significantly inhibit a person’s ability to find a job, obtain a loan, get an education, find housing, and so many other important aspects of living a normal life. Expungement gives those people a helping hand.

When a criminal record is expunged, governmental agencies are required by Court Order to “extract and isolate” the petitioner’s criminal records. Any search that is conducted later through a government agency for records of arrest, criminal charges, prosecution, conviction, and so on, will result in “no records found.” If the person whose record has been expunged is later asked — on a job application, for example — whether they have ever been arrested or convicted, they can truthfully answer “no.” According to the law, it is as if the matter never happened.

Expungement can benefit not only people who have been convicted of an offense, but also anyone who has only been arrested, charged, or acquitted, or whose charges were dismissed through the Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) diversionary program. Many people do not realize that even if they were exonerated or avoided prosecution altogether, a record still exists of their arrest and the charges that were once lodged against them. The new law expands that list of eligible people to include those who have “graduated” from the Drug Court diversionary program.

The expungement petition process has a number of important limitations, such as certain types of offenses which cannot be expunged. And a person who applies for employment with the court system or law enforcement must still disclose their actual criminal history. The expungement petition process itself is complicated and fraught with procedural requirements and deadlines which, if not followed precisely, can result in the petition being denied by the Court.

For all these reasons, it is important that someone considering applying for an expungement consult with a qualified criminal defense attorney who is familiar with the law.