Two new laws take effect in New Jersey this year that expand the scope of juvenile and adult record clearance and reduce the time people must wait to request it. The laws were passed by the New Jersey Legislature in late 2017.
Unlike most states, New Jersey law allows for the clearance of an entire juvenile record after a waiting period is completed, in addition to providing for clearance on a case-by-case basis. As of April 1, 2018, one of the new laws, S3308, cut that waiting period from five years to three years. For expungement of an entire record, the three-year waiting period starts at the person’s final discharge from legal custody or the entry of the last court order in the case. The other eligibility factors remain unchanged by the new law, which requires that the person must
- Not have been convicted or adjudicated delinquent for any offense during the waiting period;
- Not have current adult or juvenile charges;
- Not have a juvenile adjudication on their record for which the adult equivalent is ineligible for expungement;
- Not have had an adult conviction expunged; and
- Not have had a dismissal of adult charges after completing a supervisory treatment or other diversion program.
“The National Juvenile Defender Center applauds New Jersey for shortening the waiting period for certain juvenile record expungements, which could reduce some of the barriers young people face when seeking employment, accessing housing, and applying for college,” said Mary Ann Scali, the executive director of the National Juvenile Defender Center.
The new law regarding adult records, S3307—which takes effect on October 1, 2018—contains a raft of changes to adult criminal record expungement provisions, expanding the number of records that can be expunged and making expungement available sooner. The law reduces the waiting period to request expungement of conviction records for crimes from 10 years to 6 years, allows more records to be expunged, and removes the bar to expungement for people who have had charges dismissed after completing a supervisory treatment or other diversion program. The old law dictated that anyone seeking expungement was limited to one crime (defined as an offense punishable by more than six months of imprisonment) and two lesser offenses (termed “disorderly persons” and “petty disorderly persons” offenses, which are not crimes). The new law allows more combinations of records to be considered for expungement, including
- One crime and up to three lesser offenses;
- Multiple crimes and lesser offenses from the same case; and
- Multiple crimes and lesser offenses that were closely related and committed within a short period of time.
Those seeking to expunge conviction records of only lesser offenses have more options under the new law as well. The limit of one lesser offense was raised to four, and the following categories were added:
- Multiple lesser offenses from the same date
- Multiple lesser offenses that were closely related and committed within a short period of time
In all of the above categories, the law requires that the person seeking expungement have no other prior or later convictions.
The new law also addresses the fact that unpaid fines from criminal cases can keep expungement out of reach for people who would otherwise qualify. As is common in other states, the waiting period to request expungement in New Jersey begins when the most recent case is completely over—and all fines are paid in full. The new law provides relief by
- Allowing a person whose fines are still not fully paid to seek expungement after six years as long as there is no evidence of willful noncompliance with court orders to pay;
- Waiving the six-year waiting period once a person pays a fine in full, provided six years have passed since conviction or sentence completion; and
- Allowing a person to petition for expungement five years after full payment, the end of probation or parole, or release from incarceration, whichever is latest, if the person has no later conviction and a judge decides that expungement would be in the public interest.
“These amendments represent a growing acknowledgement in New Jersey of the unnecessary limitations caused by simply having a past arrest or conviction,” said Akil Roper, vice president and assistant general counsel at Legal Services of New Jersey. “Removing these barriers earlier in the process—and expanding eligibility—will positively impact many people, families and communities.”