We all make mistakes. But if you have a past drug conviction or have gone through drug court in New Jersey, you may be concerned about what your mistakes will do to your career options in the future. A drug conviction can sometimes prevent you from getting a job or obtaining a professional license and have life-long career repercussions. Fortunately, New Jersey allows people convicted of past drug offenses to expunge their records in many cases.
Expungement of Drug Offenses
In New Jersey, you may be eligible to expunge some criminal arrests or convictions after between three to ten years, depending on the circumstances, the type and number of convictions, and your rehabilitation since that time. However, those who've graduated from drug court have sometimes faced a higher bar for expungement in the past.
New Jersey's Drug Court
New Jersey's Drug Court program is specifically tailored to help drug addicts seek treatment rather than serve prison time for crimes motivated by their addiction. Drug Court involves four phases, from stabilization to commencement.
- Stabilization: During stabilization, you'll be actively attending drug treatment recommended by a medical provider, and you will be actively involved in helping yourself. This phase lasts a minimum of three months, usually longer.
- Positive Change: The positive change phase involves a permanent group home and a sponsor for your drug addiction. You will also work full or part-time while attending school. This phase lasts at least six months.
- Relapse Prevention: During relapse prevention, you will maintain contact with a probation officer and take an active role in self-help meetings as directed. The relapse prevention phase will last a minimum of three months.
- Graduation: To graduate, you must complete all phases, pay your court-ordered fines and restitution, report to the court every quarter, and mentor new Drug Court program members.
During the Drug Court program, you will also:
- Submit to random drug and alcohol screenings and blood tests
- Complete an intake interview with the Drug Court Treatment Evaluator
- Complete a substance abuse evaluation
- Attend a Drug Court orientation session
- Comply with a 10 pm curfew
- Attend weekly Drug Treatment court sessions
- Attend self-help meetings as directed
- Allow home visits from a probation officer
- Complete applications necessary for public funding or assistance
After your substance abuse evaluation and the evaluator makes treatment recommendations, the Drug Court treatment team will work with you to determine if Drug Court is appropriate for you. If so, you and your lawyer will resolve pending cases with the court by pleading guilty or admitting to a probation violation. You will also sign a contract for Drug Court treatment. The court will then adjourn sentencing until you've completed the program or stopped participating. If you violate drug court rules or fail a drug test during the program, it can result in court sanctions, including jail time.
Drug Court and Expungement
Unfortunately, many drug addicts have extensive criminal histories, making a recovery and obtaining gainful employment difficult even after completing the Drug Court program. As a result, in 2016, the New Jersey legislature passed revisions to the state's expungement laws, dramatically changing expungement opportunities for those who have graduated from New Jersey's drug court.
Under New Jersey's new expungement law, the court can order expungement of your entire record of arrests and convictions after you successfully complete drug court. You may be eligible for this expungement process if:
- You complete drug court
- You weren't convicted of any crime during the drug court program
- You don't have any past convictions barred from expungement, including serious offenses like murder, sexual assault, or kidnapping
- You don't have any past convictions for first or second-degree sale or distribution of a controlled substance or possession with intent to sell a controlled substance
See N.J.S.A. 2C § 3514(m) (2016).
However, the statute also states that the court should grant the expungement “unless it finds that the need for the availability of the records outweighs the desirability of having the person freed from any disabilities associated with their availability […].” As a result, some New Jersey courts, including the New Jersey Appellate Division, held that the statute required all drug court graduates to show that an expungement of their criminal record was in the public interest.
Meeting this public interest standard often requires that drug court graduates jump high hurdles for the court, submitting extensive documentation, including:
- All court hearing transcripts from past drug convictions
- Copies of presentencing reports for all convictions
- Character references
- Any degrees or diplomas earned
- Additional character and conduct evidence
In 2019, the New Jersey Supreme Court weighed in on the matter, holding that many Drug Court graduates, including those with third and fourth-degree drug offense convictions, should have a rebuttable presumption that expungement of their records is in the public interest. As a result, you will no longer have to submit extensive additional documentation during the expungement process.
Another Arrest After Expungement
It's important to note that the consequences can be severe if you are convicted of another crime after expungement of your criminal record under the Drug Court expungement statute. You could face restoration of your entire criminal record. Additionally, you will no longer be eligible for future expungements.
If the person whose records are expunged pursuant to paragraph (1) of this subsection is convicted of any crime following discharge from special probation, the full record of arrests and convictions may be restored to public access and no future expungement shall be granted to such person.
See N.J.S.A. 2C § 3514(m)(4) (2016).
Hire an Experienced New Jersey Expungement Attorney
If you are a drug court graduate, you're getting your life back on track. Don't let your criminal record keep you from pursuing the career or profession you want. A skilled New Jersey criminal defense attorney well-versed in drug conviction expungement can help. Attorney Joseph Lento and his team at The Lento Law Firm have helped people in New Jersey clean up their drug-related convictions for years. They can help you too. Call them today at 888-535-3686 or contact them online to schedule your consultation.