(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Jerry Green, Grace L. Spencer, Reed Gusciora, Gordon Johnson, John F. McKeon, Thomas Giblin, Benjie Wimberly, Charles Mainor and Annette Quijano to reform New Jersey’s expungement laws received final legislative approval Thursday and now heads to the governor’s desk.
The bill (A-206-471-1663-2879-3060-3108) would reduce the statutory waiting period for an expungement of a criminal conviction from 10 years to five years from the date of the person’s last conviction, payment of fine, satisfactory completion of probation or parole, or release from incarceration, whichever is later. In the case of a disorderly persons or petty disorderly persons offense, the waiting period would be reduced from five years to three years. Individuals with a criminal conviction or a conviction for a disorderly persons or petty disorderly persons offense would have to apply for an expungement to the Superior Court in the county where the conviction was adjudged.
“Expungement offers an incentive against recidivism. It gives people who currently have little chance of finding legal employment the opportunity to leave past mistakes behind them, find a job and be productive,” said Green (D-Middlesex/Somerset/Union). “The fact of the matter is, the system is working against those individuals who have served their time and want to change and do better.”
“A criminal record can affect a person’s ability to secure housing, employment and even loans for school,” said Spencer (D-Essex). “How is a person supposed to successfully reintegrate back into society when almost every road to self-dependence is blocked by a criminal record?
“Individuals who have learned from their mistakes should not be defined by their criminal records for the rest of their lives,” said Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “These folks are going back into our communities. It makes sense that we make it easier for them to become constructive citizens.”
“Putting your life back together after being incarcerated can take time. It can take even longer with a criminal record looming over you,” said Johnson (D-Bergen). “It is a greater benefit to society when these individuals are able to put their past behind them and lead better, more productive lives.”
The bill would also allow expungement of the records of a criminal conviction to certain persons who have completed a sentence to a term of special probation, commonly referred to as drug court. The court would be permitted to order the expungement of all records and information relating to all prior criminal arrests, detention, convictions and proceedings for any offense enumerated in the Criminal Code, Title 2C of the New Jersey statutes. A person would not be eligible for expungement if his or her records include a conviction for any offense barred from expungement under current law.
For individuals who are successfully discharged on or after the bill’s effective date, the individual would only be eligible to have all prior matters expunged if the person was not convicted of any crime, disorderly persons offense or petty disorderly persons offense while on special probation. For individuals who were successfully discharged prior to the bill’s effective date, they would only be eligible to have all matters expunged that existed at the time of discharge from the program if the individual has not been convicted of any crime of offense since the person’s discharge date.
“Participants in drug court have a far lower recidivism rate than offenders who are incarcerated in state prisons,” said McKeon (D-Essex/Morris). “If we want these individuals to continue on the right path, then we have to give them the chance to do better instead of setting up roadblocks.”
“There’s no benefit to continually punish people who have served their time and now want to redeem themselves,” said Giblin (D-Essex/Passaic). “We have to create opportunities for individuals who want to be productive members of society, which is very hard to do with a criminal record.”
“These individuals successfully completed a substance abuse program. They did not break any laws while in the program. They have demonstrated a desire to be and do better,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Expunging their criminal records can help them continue on the path to recovery.”
In the case of individuals with an arrest or charge that did not result in a conviction or finding of guilt – whether the proceedings were dismissed, or the person was acquitted or discharged – the following would apply:
- if the proceedings took place in Superior Court, the court, at the time of dismissal, acquittal, or discharge, would order the expungement of all records and information relating to the arrest or charge; or
- if the proceedings took place in municipal court, the municipal court would provide the person, upon request, with appropriate documentation to transmit to the Superior Court to request an expungment, and the Superior Court, upon receipt of the documentation with an expungement request would take action to order the expungement of all records and information relating to the arrest or charge. A person seeking such an expungement would not be charged an application fee for taking such action.
“It is unfair to further penalize an individual who has been cleared of a crime,” said Mainor (D-Hudson). “A criminal record can create barriers that make it difficult to prosper. If a person is acquitted or their charges are dropped, then their criminal record should be immediately expunged.”
“The lingering effects of a criminal record can make the difference between successful reintegration and reentry. These individuals went through the judicial process and were absolved,” said Quijano (D-Union). “The sooner their records are expunged, the sooner they can get back to normal.”
The bill was approved 59-8-1 by the Assembly, and 25-12 by the Senate in September.