There is no truer statement than “no one is perfect.” Many have made mistakes as a juvenile or even as an adult that can haunt for a lifetime, affecting employment, family and even access to rights others enjoy. The expungement process may be available to remove that burden.
An expungement is the removal of all records on file within any court, correctional facility, law enforcement department, or criminal or juvenile justice agency about a person’s arrest, detention, trial or conviction within the criminal or juvenile justice system. If granted, an expungement will result in adult arrest, juvenile arrest, conviction and any related proceedings being considered as never having happened. It can be very difficult, in particular, to find employment after being convicted of a felony. An expungement gives people who have little chance of finding legal employment the opportunity to leave past mistakes behind them and move forward in their lives.
For the most part, people who qualify for expungement must not have been convicted in any prior or subsequent crime in any jurisdiction. But whether you qualify for expungement depends on your criminal record.
The type of record means whether a conviction was for an indictable offense (generally an offense punishable by less than six months of jail time), for a disorderly persons offense (generally an offense punishable by less than six months of jail time), or a violation of a municipal ordinance.
A few examples of eligibility for expungement include people who have successfully completed drug court or court ordered rehabilitation and those arrested but not convicted of a crime. The record of an arrest can be expunged if the dismissal or acquittal was not a result of a plea bargain, or because of mental insanity.
Convictions that cannot be expunged include murder, manslaughter, rape, sexual assault, kidnapping, arson, robbery offenses, sexual offenses including children, and others that include a violent or sexual element.
To prepare a expungement application and prove eligibility, the following information is required: 1) date of arrest as an adult or when taken into custody as a juvenile; 2) the laws and offenses which were the basis for the arrest or conviction; 3) the original indictment, summons, docket number, warrant number or complaint number; 4) the date of the disposition, meaning conviction, not guilty verdict, or dismissal; and 5) the specific punishment. The petition must be filed in the county of arrest as an adult or where taken into custody as a juvenile. The judge assigned to the case will usually schedule a hearing within 35 and 60 days.
In January 2016, Governor Christie signed legislation cutting the waiting period for an expungement of a criminal conviction by half and make drug court graduates eligible to have their records sealed. The new law cuts the wait period for expungement of a criminal conviction from 10 years to 5, and the wait for disorderly persons offenses from 5 to 3 years.
If you think you may be eligible, it’s imperative that you look into the expungement process because it can possibly clear your criminal record, which in turn can affect housing, employment, and other crucial aspects of life. Omar Bareentto is a 2016 Rutgers School of Law graduate and a former contributor to the Rutgers Business Law Review. He collaborated with me on this blog.