After a criminal conviction and the formal penalties have been served, many people still find difficulty in getting back on their feet. While the reasons for this difficulty can be numerous, in many cases the stigma of a criminal conviction keeps people out of jobs and opportunities that they would likely excel doing. Securing an expungement for a past indiscretion that occurred as an adult or juvenile can have a number of benefits including:
- Increased chances of getting a job – In today’s risk-adverse society, most mid-sized and nearly all large employers conduct background checks on potential employees. This background check can reveal your past criminal record and may result in an employment offer not being extended.
- Licensing and professional interests – While expungements must typically be disclosed in professional licensing situations, the licensing boards typically look more favorably at expunged convictions. Furthermore, expungement can help prevent continued damage to your professional or social standing.
- Personal closure — Many individuals who have had an isolated run in with the law simply want to close this chapter of their life and move on to their goals and passions. An expungement can provide personal closure and help individuals move on with their life.
There are many good reasons to get an expungement in New Jersey. Unfortunately, a recent NJ Supreme Court Decision has likely limited the applicability of expungements to a significantly reduced population.
Understanding New Jersey’s Expungement Statute
New Jersey’s expungement statute is codified in N.J.S.A. 2C:52-1 through N.J.S.A. 2C:52-32. The statute sets forth those individuals who would qualify for this type of relief. In New Jersey, expungement means that records of a conviction will be pulled and isolated from the general criminal database. While expungement does not actually delete the record, it does segregate the record so that it is not accessible for most purposes. However there are certain crimes that can never be expunged. Furthermore, multiple criminal acts will typically make an individual ineligible for expungement.
However, two convicted individuals attempted to move for an expungement because they pleaded guilty to multiple offenses in a single legal proceeding.
Expungements Limited to ‘Single, Uninterrupted’ Events
Unfortunately, it appears that it has become significantly more difficult for individuals convicted of a crime in New Jersey to secure an expungement. In a 5-2 decision, the New Jersey Supreme Court found that only people who have committed crimes that occurred during “single, uninterrupted” events are eligible to petition the court for an expungement.
One of the individuals seeking an expungement in this consolidated matter was a property developer who was convicted of offering bribes. The developer was convicted of offering bribes to a town’s mayor and more than one town council members over the course of two days. The second individual seeking an expungement in this matter was a former Kean University student who was convicted of selling marijuana to an undercover officer twice over the course of five days.
Writing for the majority court Justice Anne Patterson held that only people who have not been convicted of a previous or subsequent crime are eligible for expungement. The Justice held that, as written, New Jersey’s expungement law did not provide relief for those who committed “one or more crimes closely related in circumstances or in time.”
The dissenting Justices stated that the majority’s holding frustrated the purposes of New Jersey’s expungement law which has served to help individuals who have committed only an isolated crime in an otherwise lawful, law-abiding life. Some believe that this decision will have extremely wide-ranging effects because it is typical and common practice for prosecutors to file multiple charges. Individuals lacking resources to defend, may think a plea agreement where they plead guilty to multiple charges is a good deal compared to the worst case scenario. However, in light of this decision, such a plea may end up foreclosing one’s ability to expunge their record and get a fresh start. Individuals accused of a crime in New Jersey should remain cognizant of this decision and account for its limitations on their future options before taking any substantive legal action.
Seeking an Expungement of a Past Conviction in New Jersey?
Expungements are an essential legal tool to give people with only an isolated instance of criminal wrong-doing a fresh start. To speak to the dedicated and experienced criminal defense and expungement attorneys of the law Firm of John J. Zarych call our firm at (609) 616-4956 or contact us online today.