If you're a nurse or aspire to a nursing career in New Jersey and have a criminal record, it can be frustrating to figure out whether the state will grant you a license or renew your license. Everyone makes mistakes, even nurses, and fortunately, the state of New Jersey realizes that. As a result, New Jersey law allows many people to expunge their criminal records, granting them a clean slate. For nurses, expunging a criminal record can clear the path to a nursing license or license renewal in New Jersey.
New Jersey Licensing Requirements
If your goal is to become a Registered Nurse or Licensed Practical Nurse in New Jersey, you will go through a criminal background check as part of the process under the Health Care Professional Responsibility and Reporting Enhancement Act. See N.J.S.A. 45:1-30, et seq. (2013). Nurses deal with sensitive patient information, including health histories and prescription medications. They also care for people at their most vulnerable, a position of trust and respect in the community. As a result, the New Jersey Board of Nursing holds nurses to a high standard and scrutinizes every applicant before granting a nursing license. To obtain a nursing license, New Jersey law requires that an applicant:
(2) is of good moral character, is not a habitual user of drugs and has never been convicted or has not pleaded nolo contendere, non vult contendere or non vult to an indictment, information or complaint alleging a violation of any Federal or State law relating to narcotic drugs[…]
N.J.S.A. § 45:11-26(a)(2) (2020). Moreover, a criminal record for crimes beyond drug offenses can also disqualify a nurse from certification:
A person shall be disqualified from certification if that person's criminal history record background check reveals a record of conviction of any of the following crimes and offenses:
(1) In New Jersey, any crime or disorderly persons offense:
(a) involving danger to the person, meaning those crimes and disorderly persons offenses set forth in N.J.S.2C:11-1 et seq., N.J.S.2C:12-1 et seq., N.J.S.2C:13-1 et seq., N.J.S.2C:14-1 et seq. or N.J.S.2C:15-1 et seq.; or
(b) against the family, children or incompetents, meaning those crimes and disorderly persons offenses set forth in N.J.S.2C:24-1 et seq.; or
(c) involving theft as set forth in chapter 20 of Title 2C of the New Jersey Statutes; or
(d) involving any controlled dangerous substance or controlled substance analog as set forth in chapter 35 of Title 2C of the New Jersey Statutes except paragraph (4) of subsection a. of N.J.S.2C:35-10.
(2) In any other state or jurisdiction, of conduct which, if committed in New Jersey, would constitute any of the crimes or disorderly persons offenses described in paragraph (1) of this subsection.
N.J.S.A. § 45:11-24.3 (a)(1) (2020).
As part of the application process, you'll need to answer the following questions:
- Have you ever been summoned; arrested; taken into custody; indicted; tried; charged with; admitted into pre-trial intervention (P.T.I.); or pled guilty to any violation of law, ordinance, felony, misdemeanor or disorderly persons offense, in New Jersey, any other state, the District of Columbia or in any other jurisdiction? (Parking or speeding violations need not be disclosed, but motor vehicle violations such as driving while impaired or intoxicated must be.)
- Have you ever been convicted of any crime or offense under any circumstances? This includes, but is not limited to, a plea of guilty, non vult, nolo contendere, no contest, or a finding of guilt by a judge or jury.
- Are there any criminal charges now pending against you in New Jersey, any other state, the District of Columbia or in any other jurisdiction?
You will also have to go through a criminal background check.
Expungement for Nurses
In New Jersey, you can expunge a criminal conviction or arrest through several options.
- Five Years: The traditional expungement pathway in New Jersey allows you to expunge up to one indictable offense, one indictable offense, and three disorderly persons offenses, or five disorderly offenses or petty disorderly offenses after five years.
- Three Years: You may be able to use New Jersey's early pathway expungement process to expunge a conviction after three years if you comply with all court requirements, have compelling circumstances, and have had no further arrests or convictions.
- Ten Years: Under New Jersey's Clean Slate provisions, you can expunge your entire criminal record ten years after completing your sentence and paying all your fines. This option may allow you to expunge a conviction when you were previously ineligible because you had something expunged earlier or had multiple indictable offenses.
If you go through drug court, the rules are slightly different. For nurses with drug convictions, the standard for expungement has sometimes had a higher bar, requiring that they show that their expungement is in the public interest.
Expungement Is in the Public Interest
In the past, the New Jersey Appellate Division held that the state's drug court expungement statute required that all drug court graduates must show that an expungement of their criminal record was in the “public interest.” To meet this standard, nurses had to submit extensive documentary evidence to the court, including:
- Transcripts of hearings for drug convictions
- Copies of presentencing reports
- Letters of character reference
- Degrees and diplomas earned
- Other evidence of character and conduct since their conviction
In 2019, the New Jersey Supreme Court overruled the Appellate Division, holding that drug court graduates with third and fourth-degree drug offense convictions have a rebuttable presumption that expungement of their records is in the public interest.
If you've already expunged your criminal record, it shouldn't prevent you from obtaining or keeping a New Jersey nursing license. New Jersey law keeps the state licensing board from discriminating against you or denying your application because of an expungement or pardon. See N.J.S.A. 2A:168A-3 (2013). To ensure your record was properly expunged, you should request an FBI background check to verify that your record is now clean.
Hire an Experienced New Jersey Expungement Attorney
If you are a licensed nurse in New Jersey or if you are in nursing school or contemplating nursing school with a criminal history, you should see an experienced expungement attorney as soon as possible. The New Jersey expungement process can be complicated, taking anywhere from eight months to a year or more. Attorney Joseph Lento and the team at The Lento Law Firm have been helping New Jersey professionals clean their records through expungement for years, and they can help you too. Call 888-535-3686 or contact them online to set up your consultation.