The unfortunate reality for those men and women who have had any sort of contact with the criminal justice system is that the records of these encounters will likely remain on their permanent criminal record. Sadly, this can result in access to everything from employment and education to housing and other services being severely curtailed.
Thankfully, the law has a mechanism through which former offenders can seek to clear their records of offenses, arrests, and other related matters: expungement. Indeed, when a criminal record is expunged, it is viewed as having never occurred in the eyes of the law, meaning people are officially freed from the mistakes of their past and able to focus on building a better future.
While many states have rather accessible expungement laws on their books, New Jersey is not among them. Indeed, many have long pointed to the Garden State's expungement laws as being unduly strict.
For the uninitiated, state law dictates that serious felonies cannot be expunged while expungement is limited to just one indictable offense. In addition, expungement doesn't become an option until anywhere from five to ten years have passed since the date of the most recent conviction, completion of probation/parole, payment of fines or release from prison, whichever is latest.
Fortunately, change might now be on the horizon, as Governor Chris Christie announced earlier this week that both he and Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Hudson) have worked together to produce a package of three bills that would reform New Jersey's expungement system.
The bills, as written, call for the following:
- Reducing the ten-year waiting period for expungement to six years
- Allowing petitioners to expunge two offenses
- Permitting expungement for low-level marijuana possession and distribution
- Reducing the five-year waiting period for expungement of a juvenile record to three years
- Enhancing the "ban the box" law, which prohibits employers from inquiring about the criminal histories of applicants
It will be interesting to see if the bills gain the necessary traction in both the Senate and General Assembly. Stay tuned for updates ...
Consider speaking with an experienced legal professional who will work to protect your freedom, your reputation and your future if you have been arrested or charged with any manner of criminal offense.