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Criminal Charges and Convictions
Expanded Expungement Relief Helps Decriminalize Addiction
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On January 18, 2022, Governor Murphy signed into law two bills intended to provide relief to certain individuals with drug-related offenses and expand expungement eligibility, and in so doing makes significant steps towards the decriminalization of addiction.

P.L.2021, c.403 downgrades certain drug-related convictions for purposes of expungement. Convictions for possession with intent to use drug paraphernalia under N.J.S.A. 2C:36-2, when same is a hypodermic syringe or needle; or possession with the intent to distribute drug paraphernalia under N.J.S.A. 2C:36-3 will not be considered convictions. Convictions for unlawful distribution or manufacturing with intent to distribute; drug paraphernalia in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:36-3, when the paraphernalia is a hypodermic syringe or needle; or an equivalent crime involving a syringe or needle, will not be considered indictable convictions, but will be considered as a disorderly person offense.

P.L.2021, c.403 also removes the bar to expunging convictions in certain cases where there has been a previous expungement, including:

  • possession with intent to use a hypodermic syringe or needle under N.J.S.A. 2C:36-2;
  • possession with intent to distribute hypodermic syringes or needle offenses under N.J.S.A. 2C:36-3; and
  • possession or distribution of a hypodermic syringe or needle pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:36-6.

Otherwise, a previous expungement of a conviction can, in many circumstances, preclude (prevent) an expungement for other convictions. 

Additionally, this law makes legal the use or possession with intent to use a hypodermic syringe or needle for the personal use of a controlled substance.

P.L.2021, c.460 expands expungement eligibility for individuals who have successfully completed special probation (“drug court”). Typically, applicants are not eligible for a drug court expungement if they have a “non-expungeable” conviction. This law allows those who were convicted of non-violent endangering the welfare of a child offenses, under N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4a(2)—a “non-expungeable” conviction—the ability to expunge their record in certain circumstances. Those who have such a conviction may be eligible for a drug court expungement, if:  

  • they have no other conviction for a “non-expungeable” offense;
  • at least 10 years have passed since their successful discharge from drug court;
  • there have been no criminal convictions or offenses since the discharge and there are no pending charges; and
  • the court determines the offense is non-violent based on the prosecutor’s review of the facts.  Violent acts which would preclude relief would include any act of “abuse” or “cruelty” as defined in relevant sections of R.S. 9:6-1, or any act resulting in an “abused or neglected child” as defined in relevant paragraphs of N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21.

Both new laws are effective immediately. ​​​

2/10/2022