Everything You Need to Know About Expungements in New Jersey

Do you have a criminal or juvenile record? Is it preventing you from getting hired, taking out loans, or finishing up your degree?  Wouldn’t you like that record to just disappear? If you meet the eligibility requirements, an experienced lawyer can make your criminal record disappear with an expungement. Here is everything you need to know about having your record expunged in New Jersey!

What is an expungement?

An expungement is the removal and isolation of all records on file with the government relating to any criminal or juvenile crimes. New Jersey law specifically defines this under NJ Rev Stat § 2C:52-1 (2013).  If an order for expungement is granted, the adult arrest, the record of law enforcement taking you into custody as a juvenile, convictions, and any related proceedings are sealed away in the state’s records. According to New Jersey law governing the expungement process  “arrest, conviction and any proceedings related thereto shall be deemed not to have occurred, and the petitioner may answer any questions relating to their occurrence accordingly”. In other words, with an expungement you can honestly answer “no” to any questions about your criminal background.

How to get an expungement?

To get an expungement, a judge must review your case and decide that you are reformed. The decision to erase a person’s criminal history is not taken lightly, and you must demonstrate to the court that you deserve a second chance. To start the process, a petition must be filed with the court. Your lawyer will help you fill out these documents.

The court will consider your offense and look favorably upon mitigating factors like stable employment and community service. If a judge is convinced you have completely reformed, he will grant the expungement order. This is effectively a fresh start.

NJ Expungement Requirements

In general, felons eligible for an expungement if they have kept a clean record for ten years. An individual who can show good character and has committed no additional crimes can file for an early expungement after just five years. The applicant is also required to have no more than two disorderly persons offenses.

Misdemeanors, arrests, and juvenile custody all have different waiting periods. This chart from the nonprofit Legal Services of New Jersey outlines what can be appealed and how long you must wait for non-felony offenses.

There are special conditions for certain crimes:

  • DUI/DWI: Drunk driving offenses cannot be expunged. After ten years, they will can no longer be considered aggravating factors in a DUI sentencing, but the record never goes away.
  • Drug Crimes: Possession charges can be expunged under limited circumstances. Crimes involving more than 25 grams of marijuana, 5 grams of hashish, or any other controlled substance are not eligible.
  • Juvenile Offenses: If an offense committed as a minor would have carried a felony charge as an adult, the 10 year period still applies. Otherwise the minor may request an expungement after two years.
  • Sex Crimes: Rape, sexual assault, and any offense involving a minor cannot be expunged. There is no process to remove an individual from the Sex Offender registry.
  • Violent Crimes: Murder, arson, kidnapping, or any other violent crimes cannot be expunged.
  • Victims of Human Trafficking: If you committed violent crimes, drug crimes, or prostitution while a victim of human trafficking, you may be eligible for an expungement if you have completed certain rehabilitation programs.

Who can see my criminal record?

Once you’re convicted of a crime, the details of your offense and punishment become a matter of public record. Anyone with a justified reason to run a background check will be able to see you are a felon. Expungement changes who can access your record, but does not actually destroy that information.

Law Enforcement

Everyday interactions like a traffic stop will not result in your record being reviewed, and law enforcement will need a strong reason to open any expunged records. They will still be able to see your criminal record if you are arrested again or apply for a position with a law enforcement agency. Your record will be unsealed for a judge to review at any future sentencing hearings. The State Police are also barred from releasing your record to the public, even if someone runs a background check on you.

Employers

After your record is expunged, employers will no longer see your criminal record if they run a background check for the position. You do not need to disclose your conviction on any release forms, and your employer is unlikely to discover your past during the hiring process. This is the primary reason many people seek an expungement. If your conviction put a hold on your professional career, an expungement can set you back on the path to success.

Military

The United States Military has special authority to access all of your records. This includes confidential medical records, juvenile court records, and expunged or pardoned criminal records. You can enlist with an expunged criminal record, but it is the discretion of your local recruitment station

How much does an expungement cost?

  • Filing Fees: The New Jersey Superior Courts currently charge $75 to file for an expungement
  • Lawyer’s Fees: Every expungement case is different. Depending on the offense, it could take a few weeks or a few months. You should discuss hourly rates and retainers with your lawyer up front.

Can I own a gun again?

It’s possible but unlikely. There is no simple answer to this question. With an expunged record, you should be eligible to apply for a License to Purchase Firearms. These can be denied for any reason, so your local law enforcement agency will determine if they will accept your application after an expungement. Certain violent crimes result in a permanent ineligibility to own a firearm under federal law, an expungement is not guaranteed to remove your data from the FBI’s NICS check, run each time you legally purchase a firearm. So even if New Jersey grants you a license to buy guns, it may be a federal crime to possess them, or gun dealers may see your name flagged at purchase and refuse to finish the sale. If you are interested in owning firearms again, make sure to discuss this with your expungement lawyer.

Do I need a lawyer?

Yes! The laws and regulations regulating expungements are extremely complicated, and even a small mistake in your filing will cause a judge to reject your expungement. There are dozens of forms and statements that must be prepared to justify an expungement. The process is so involved that New Jersey’s official filing paperwork has a forward advising those seeking an expungement to consult a lawyer first.

If you are tired of being rejected for jobs and apartment rentals, if you are tired of carrying the stigma of a conviction for a crime committed years ago, you need an experienced attorney who can make the nightmare go away. If you want an experienced and compassionate lawyer to guide you through the expungement process, contact the law office of Kenneth D. Aita for a consultation.