There is increasing concern over the efficiency of our State’s court system. Everyone seems to want the system to work more efficiently. The most obvious examples of this desire is the soon-to-be-implemented criminal justice reform package (bail reform and speedy trial), which was the subject of prior blog posts. But other procedures are being implemented that will hopefully make the Courts run more smoothly, including the new expedited expungement procedure for certain non-indictable offenses. Municipal court defendants with eligible offenses should take immediate advantage of this procedure.
An expungement allows someone convicted of an offense to, in effect, hide the fact of that conviction from certain individuals and entities. The primary benefit seems to be in the area of background checks by prospective employers. The expungement procedure for an indictable (felony) conviction appears in the New Jersey criminal code. Anyone who is in the running for an expungement should take advantage of this procedure as soon as they are able to satisfy all of the statutory criteria. (Not every offense is eligible for expungement. Further, a certain amount of time must have passed since the completion of the sentence before the application can be filed with the court.)
The expungement process requires a fair amount of work, and can take many months to complete successfully. As of April 18, 2016, the criminal code was amended to allow for the expedited expungement, without the assessment of a fee, of all information concerning or relating to an arrest or charge for a disorderly persons offense, petty disorderly persons offense, or ordinance violation, where the charge has been disposed of with a dismissal, acquittal at trial, or discharged without a finding of guilt by the defendant.
The new expedited expungement procedure is NOT available where the disposition stemmed from a plea bargain relating to a conviction for other charges. (Put somewhat differently, if the defendant’s DP, PDP or ordinance violation was dismissed because the defendant was convicted for something else, the defendant cannot take advantage of the new procedure.) Further, to use this new procedure, the defendant must specifically request to do so at the time of the disposition of their case. As such, the new procedure cannot be used for matters resolved by means of a conditional discharge (e.g., relatively small drug cases adjudicated in a municipal court), or conditional dismissal.
The mechanics are fairly straight forward. The applicant requests and completes the application, and submits the required paperwork to the municipal court that heard the case. The time period within which the paperwork must be submitted is in the municipal court’s discretion. Once the paperwork has been properly completed and reviewed, the municipal court will send it to that county’s Superior Court criminal division. Once processed and approved by a Superior Court judge, the county prosecutor will distribute copies of the expungement order to law enforcement agencies and correctional institutions, as well as the originating municipal court, which will then expunge the records it has on file for the underlying case.
As noted above, there is no fee for using this process. However, anyone seeking to take advantage of this new procedure must make the request when their case is disposed of. The failure to do so will not bar the defendant from having their record expunged. It means, however, that the defendant will have to apply for a conventional expungement using the older procedure, which takes time and requires payment of a fee.
Every defendant and defense attorney should be trying to use this new procedure immediately upon disposition of any eligible case. Do not let the opportunity for a fast and relatively inexpensive expungement pass you by.
James S. Friedman LLC represents criminal defendants in the Superior Court of New Jersey in every county, all New Jersey municipal courts, and all federal district courts in New Jersey (Newark, Trenton and Camden). The firm also represents criminal defendants in the New York State Supreme Court, as well as the federal district courts, in Brooklyn and Manhattan. If you are seeking high-quality representation in our criminal case, call us toll-free today.