Individuals who have a criminal record are often keen on finding legal ways to diminish the effect that it has on their lives. One such way that is frequently utilized is having the record expunged. In New Jersey, NJ expungement laws are implemented to govern the use of this procedure for removing an individual’s criminal history from the databases of law enforcement agencies.
Expungement prevents the general public from gaining access to an individual’s criminal record check. As a result all the benefits that were once inhibited by the file can be somewhat restored. These benefits are usually associated with gaining access to certain privileges such as employment, housing facilities, license permits, and financial aid.
Even though it is advised that all criminal records should be expunged in order to obtain these benefits, the fact still remains that the laws have strict criteria that must first be met. These criteria speak specifically to the issue of eligibility.
Under the laws that govern expungement in New Jersey, the eligibility of criminal records is determined by the following factors:
- Type of offense committed – while most offenses are eligible for being removed there are still others that act as deal breakers. The offenses that are permitted include petty theft, disorderly conduct and other misdemeanours. Offenses that are ineligible for removal include serious crimes (felonies) such as sexual assault against children, kidnapping, human trafficking, driving while intoxicated, murder, arson and perjury.
If the offense did not lead to a conviction then the arrest record can be removed since no charges were filed. Convictions may be omitted in cases where the individual was not found guilty of the offense, or had the charges dismissed for other valid reasons.
- Number of years passed since the offense was committed – after completing the sentencing terms of the offense committed a specific number of years has to pass before expungement can be considered as an option. This waiting period varies and is directly dependent on the nature of the offense. For less severe crimes known as misdemeanours, the waiting period is usually five years. On the other hand, felonies attract a ten year waiting period before the file can qualify. The period that is applicable does not start from the time the offense was committed but instead after completion of the sentencing or fulfillment of restitution.
- Previous convictions – according to New Jersey legislation, in order to qualify for expungement, the individual must not have any previous convictions on their file. Also there should not be any previous expungement as only one is granted throughout an individual’s lifetime.
How to expunge a criminal record
Having satisfied the criteria, an individual can proceed in having their criminal record removed. The file should first be obtained so as to ensure that the details contained within are accurate. Subsequently the relevant forms should be obtained, filled and then submitted to the law enforcement agency. A date will then be issued for a court hearing. It is during this time that the presiding judge will consider the case and decide whether the individual is worthy of having their file expunged. Such a decision is usually made based on whether they have acknowledged their mistake and their need to reintegrate into society.
According to the NJ expungement laws, if an expungement is approved by the court then it is mandatory that the criminal record be removed from the databases of all law enforcement agencies in the state. This order also extends the court, detention facility and other applicable criminal justice agency that may have a copy of the file.
How effective is expungement
In general, a file that was removed will not appear in any criminal background check. This means there will be no evidence to show that the individual actually committed the offense or faced any subsequent charges. Therefore an individual is not required to disclose any information pertaining to the file or expungement.
However, there are certain situations where this protection becomes invalid thus making the file accessible. Such situations involve applying for employment at a law enforcement agency, judicial branch of the government or any other government based agency. Additionally the criminal record may be retrieved and utilized if a new arrest is made so as to assist in determining the sentencing terms.
Recent amendments to the law
In 2010, the state of New Jersey amended its expungement statute. As a result the following changes were implemented:
- Reduction of the waiting period to five years for felonies provided that the individual had paid their fine, has not subsequently been convicted and the court finds that granting the request is in the public interest.
- Second chance for qualification to have clear records in NJ even if fines were not paid provided that there is compliance with a court ordered payment plan or the fines could not be made due to “compelling circumstances”.
- Adjustment in the manner in which the waiting period is calculated for juveniles.
- Ability to expunge 3rd and 4th degree drug possession and drug distribution offenses.
- Inclusion of more crimes barred from being expunged such as sexual acts involving a minor, terrorism and possession or producing of chemical weapons.
The expungement laws of New Jersey allow individuals with a criminal record to have the ability to start life all over again without any hindrance. In doing so, the file is removed and thus remains inaccessible to the general public.