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LEGAL TOPICS
Changes to Expungement Law Bring New Opportunities

A new expungement reform law will allow more people with criminal records to expunge their records. The new law may also make the process less complicated for those who file their petitions with the court.

Clean Slate, E-filing and Automated Expungement

Under “clean slate” you are eligible to clear an entire record of arrests and convictions 10 years after your most recent conviction, payment of fine, satisfactory completion of probation or parole, or release from incarceration—whichever comes later. The court may make an exception if you were unable to pay your fine. If you have any convictions for serious crimes (such as murder, robbery, or aggravated sexual assault) you will not be eligible for clean slate expungement.

The court is currently developing and testing an e-filing program that will help filers create and serve petitions for expungement. Legal Services of New Jersey will provide more details on this process soon.

The new law also calls for the creation of a task force to explore and implement an automated system for clean slate expungement. Under that system, it is intended that you will not need to file a petition. Rather, the expungement will be done automatically by the court when you have met the waiting period and are otherwise eligible.

Expungement of Marijuana Convictions

The new law provides for expedited expungement and the sealing of certain marijuana offenses. Most marijuana- related convictions will be eligible for expungement immediately after payment of fine, completion of probation or parole, or release from incarceration, legal custody, or supervision. If you were convicted before the enactment of the new law, you may petition the court for relief. If you are convicted after the law takes effect, the court will issue an “order of nondisclosure,” which will provide relief similar to expungement.

Note:  If you have a conviction for distribution of marijuana in the amount of 1 ounce or more but less than 5 pounds, or hashish over 5 grams but less than 1 pound, an automatic order of nondisclosure will not be issued. However, you may petition the court for expungement after a three-year waiting period.

Also, most marijuana-related crimes will be downgraded to disorderly persons convictions for the purposes of expungement. Minor marijuana offenses will not be considered convictions and will be expungeable immediately.

Changes to the Traditional Expungement Petition Process

Other changes to the expungement process include:

  1. The waiting period to expunge an indictable conviction (and up to three disorderly persons or petty disorderly persons convictions) is reduced from six years to five years.
  2. You may expunge up to five disorderly persons or petty disorderly persons offenses if you have no indictable convictions.
  3. The new law allows for a partial expungement if you have exceeded the allowable limit of convictions. (Under the old law there was a total bar for expungement if you exceeded the allowable limit of convictions.)
  4. A previous conviction will not prevent the expungement of a “crime spree”(multiple convictions under a single judgment of conviction, or the same date of conviction, or multiple convictions that were interdependent or closely related in circumstances and were committed as part of a sequence of events that took place within a comparatively short period of time).

In nearly all categories of expungement, your petition may be granted if there is an outstanding fine, but all other requirements are met. The court will enter a civil judgment for any fines and fees owing on any expungeable convictions unpaid at the time of granting the expungement, collectable by the State Treasury.

For arrests not leading to conviction or “dismissed cases” in the municipal court, you will no longer need to request an application to expunge your case, and it may be expunged immediately after it is dismissed by the municipal court.

Public Interest and Other Changes and Resources

The “public interest” standard will be replaced by a “compelling circumstances” standard. Previously, under the public interest, the court could grant an expungement application it deemed in the public interest, giving “due consideration to the nature of the offense and the applicant’s character and conduct since the conviction.” It is unclear what the shift in the standard means for petitioners, but it might modify the strict documentation requirement of including pre-sentence investigation reports, plea and sentencing transcripts from criminal cases.

A compelling circumstances requirement is applied, as well, for third- and fourth-degree sale, distribution, and possession with the intent to sell controlled dangerous substance convictions. Additionally, the waiting period associated with early pathway public interest expungement for crimes is reduced from five years to four years.

Other Changes

In addition to the changes described above, the new law:

  • Eliminates the $75 filing fee.
  • Explicitly requires that an expungement petition be filed in the jurisdiction where the most recent conviction for a crime was located.
  • Simplifies the necessary statement to accompany the petition by removing the excessively wordy literal “crime spree” definition. It still requires disclosure of a past criminal conviction when an individual is seeking the expungement of a criminal conviction.
  • Requires disclosure of previous name changes in an expungement application.

Although the elimination of the filing fee is effective immediately, most provisions will not take effect until June 15, 2020. Legal Services of New Jersey will update the online expungement tools and information in Clearing Your Record Online​ to reflect these and other anticipated changes in the law.    ​

2/19/2020
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