The most recent changes to expungement law in New Jersey took effect on October 1, 2018. Here are some of its highlights:
- The waiting period before a criminal conviction can be expunged is reduced from ten years to six years. In some cases, that six-year wait can be lowered to five years, just as before. (The waiting period before disorderly persons convictions and municipal ordinance convictions can be expunged remains unchanged);
- Previously, the number of disorderly persons or petty disorderly persons convictions that could be expunged was three. That number, assuming no independent criminal convictions, is raised to four. Convictions for multiple interdependent or closely-related-in-circumstances disorderly persons or petty disorderly persons offenses occurring within a short period of time can be treated as a single conviction;
- As just mentioned, the number of disorderly persons or petty disorderly persons convictions that could be expunged was three. The new law allows an unlimited number of disorderly persons convictions to be expunged when two conditions are satisfied. The first condition is that the applicant has had no other convictions of any nature. The second condition (aye, there's the rub) is that all of the disorderly persons convictions must have been entered on the same day. The arrests may have occurred on different days, separated by weeks, months or, theoretically, years, and the convictions may have happened in different courts, but if all were entered on the same day, they can be expunged when these conditions are satisfied;
- Previously, criminal convictions could be expunged if there were not more than two additional disorderly persons or petty disorderly persons convictions. The new law raised the limit of additional disorderly persons or petty disorderly persons convictions (or any combination thereof) from two to three;
- Previously, no conviction could be expunged if the applicant has had one or more criminal charges dismissed as a result of successful completion of a diversion. The new law eliminated that bar;
- Satisfaction of fines and other financial obligations to the court arising from a criminal conviction are no longer a requirement to obtain an expungement when the non-satisfaction was not willful. Collection of financial obligations will be transferred to a different court, and the nature of the event that caused the obligation will be hidden from public view. Subsequent willful non-payment will cause the expungement to be vacated.
- All criminal convictions for which expungements are sought are listed in a single judgment of conviction;
- All of the convictions related to crimes that were “interdependent” or closely related in circumstances and were committed as part of a sequence of events that took place within a comparatively short period of time.
Both situations that allow relaxation of the one-crime maximum are available only when the applicant has never been convicted for another crime or offense.
Drafting Note for Expungement Lawyers: New specifications for the verification required by N.J.S. 2C:52-8b apply in some situations. Those situations relate to expungement applications for criminal convictions, and to interrelated disorderly persons convictions. Please review N.J.S. 2C:52-8b carefully to see the exact new requirements.
The official designation of the October 1, 2018 law is P.L.2017, chapter 244. Chapter 244 changed eight separate statutes. The overview on this page outlines highlights. Much wording in those new statutes is convoluted. Outright internal contradictions exist. Eventually, judges will be called upon to interpret that convolution. Expungement Lawyers in New Jersey™ remain available to help straighten out this mess as painlessly as possible.
As indicated in the box at the top of this page, the New Jersey Legislature passed a bill designated S3205. Governor Murphy has conditionally vetoed the bill. Thus, unless the Legislature overrides the governor's veto, it will not become law in the form as passed by the Legislature, and it may never become law at all. Here is a link to the governor's conditional veto statement. Here are highlights of S3205 as passed by the New Jersey Legislature.
- Drug-related convictions that previously could not be expunged become eligible to be expunged. Put differently, for purposes of expungement, convictions for controlled dangerous substance crimes will be treated the same as other crimes and offenses in terms of eligibility. Thus S3205 would allow expunction of first- and second degree convictions that previously could not be expunged at all. Further, the nature of these convictions will not require the applicant to demonstrate that expunction is in the public interest. Thus expungement of various convictions that Expungement Lawyers in New Jersey™ previously considered “complex” will become what they call “plain vanilla,” with corresponding reduction of their fees.
- Certain crimes for distribution of marijuana or hashish, or possession of marijuana or hashish with intent to distribute, will be treated as disorderly persons convictions for purposes of determining expungement eligibility in New Jersey;
- Convictions for simple possession of marijuana or of hashish shall not be considered convictions at all for purposes of determining expungement eligibility in New Jersey;
- Convictions for possession of drug paraphernalia shall not be considered convictions for purposes of determining expungement eligibility in New Jersey provided that that drug paraphernalia was possessed in connection with a marijuana- or hashish related offense;
- The wait time before a conviction for most eligible crimes can be expunged when a showing of “in the public interest” is not required is lowered from six years to five years;
- The wait time before a conviction for most eligible crimes when showing of “in the public interest is required” is lowered from five years to four years;
- The two items just mentioned used the expression “in the public interest.” However, the revised statutes no longer use those terms. Rather they replace that expression with showing “compelling circumstances.” What's the difference? S3205 discusses “compelling circumstances” in the context of ability to pay fines, and in the context of disorderly persons offenses, but not in the context of when the four-year wait may be applied. Expungement Lawyers in New Jersey™ surmise that the tests for determining whether “compelling circumstances” have been established will likely be more stringent than the previous tests for “in the public interest.” In due course the courts will tell us the difference as they interpret that expression;
- Various marijuana- and hashish related convictions for offenses committed before the effective date of S3205 become eligible for expungement immediately;
- Various marijuana- and hashish related convictions for offenses committed on or after the effective date of S3205 become eligible for expungement after eighteen months;
- The number of disorderly persons convictions or petty disorderly persons convictions, or any combinations thereof, that can be expunged, assuming no criminal convictions, increases from four to five;
- Expungement for convictions will become available without limit when those convictions are for distribution of marijuana or hashish, or possession with intent to distribute when the quantity of marijuana involved is less than five pounds, or the quantity of hashish is less than one pound. Expungement for designated school zone, public park, public building, or public housing project convictions arising out of those offenses becomes available, and those special zone offenses can similarly be expunged without limit;
- The wait time before a conviction for the crimes in the preceding item can be expunged is lowered to three years; and
- “Clean Slate”: Despite limits indicated above, the number of eligible criminal convictions and disorder persons convictions and petty disorderly persons convictions that can be expunged is no longer capped. However, when the number of criminal convictions exceeds one, or the number of disorderly persons convictions exceeds five (or four if there are also any criminal convictions), the waiting period becomes ten years.
Warning: Our language in the highlights indicated above is vastly simplified. The wording of S3205 is convoluted. Very convoluted. That wording must be examined closely to determine its precise provisions. Courts will be struggling for years, trying to interpret exactly what is included, and what is not. Expungement Lawyers in New Jersey™ will be at the forefront of those struggles.
For those with the patience, and for those with sufficient curiosity, here is a link to the full text of S3205 in .pdf format, as marked up by the Legislature.
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