Expungement in New Jersey: Frequently Asked Questions

When the police arrest you for a crime, you don't often think about the long-term consequences. You focus on the trial and possible sentence in front of you. But once you have a criminal record, it can limit your future options in ways you never expected. A criminal record can limit your college or other educational opportunities, financial aid, other loans, including mortgages, employment options, and even whether you can rent an apartment or house. Fortunately, New Jersey understands the importance of giving people second chances. Under New Jersey law, you can use expungement to clear a criminal conviction or arrest record in many cases.

Last year, the New Jersey legislature completely revised New Jersey's expungement law, making the process easier and more flexible. Only about 6% of people eligible for expungements petition the court to clear their records. With the new changes, the state will automatically clear the records of some people and make it easier for others to do so.

What is an Expungement?

Expungement is a process used to clear criminal convictions and certain records related to that arrest from your record. Title 2C of the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice covers New Jersey's expungement laws. 

New Jersey law defines expungement as the “extraction, sealing, impounding, or isolation of all records on file within any court, detention or correctional facility, law enforcement or criminal justice agency concerning a person's detection, apprehension, arrest, detention, trial, or disposition of an offense within the criminal justice system.” N.J.S.A. 2C:52-1 (2019). It's important to note that expungement can extract and seal criminal records, they do still exist, and law enforcement officers can access them.

The records expunged can include “complaints, warrants, arrests, commitments, processing records, fingerprints, photographs, index cards, “rap sheets,” and judicial docket records.” Id. It can be time-consuming to track down all the necessary records because so many different agencies can hold records related to your arrest and conviction. While you don't need a lawyer for an expungement, an experienced expungement attorney can make the entire process easier and more efficient.

What Crimes Can I Expunge in New Jersey?

In New Jersey, if you only have one indictable offense conviction, the equivalent of a felony in other states, you can expunge the offense five years after completing your sentence and paying your fines. See N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2 (2019). If a court convicted you of two or more indictable offenses, you could only be eligible for an expungement under limited circumstances or after a longer waiting period. For example, if you go through Drug Court, you may be able to expunge more offenses.

For disorderly persons offenses and petty disorderly persons offenses – the equivalent of a misdemeanor in other states – you can expunge up to five offenses with no prior criminal history. See N.J.S.A. 2C:52-3 (2019). If you have an indictable offense as well, you can expunge up to three disorderly persons offenses under N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2. 

Are There Any Crimes I Can't Expunge?

There are some crimes, including attempting or assisting the crime, that are ineligible for expungement in New Jersey:

  • Criminal homicide, except death by auto
  • Endangering the welfare of a child if based on sexual contact
  • Perjury
  • False swearing
  • Arson and related offenses
  • Treason
  • Producing or possessing chemical weapons, biological agents, or nuclear or radiological devices
  • Criminal restraint
  • Luring or enticing
  • Photographing or filming a child in a prohibited sexual act or for portrayal in a sexually suggestive manner
  • Causing or permitting a child to engage in a prohibited sexual act or the simulation of an act, or to be portrayed in a sexually suggestive manner
  • Kidnapping
  • Human trafficking
  • Aggravated sexual assault
  • Aggravated criminal sexual assault
  • Criminal sexual contact with a minor
  • Robbery
  • Distributing, possessing with the intent to distribute, or using a file-sharing program to store items depicting the sexual exploitation or abuse of a child
  • Possessing or viewing items depicting the sexual exploitation or abuse of a child
  • Leader of a child pornography network

See N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2. Conspiracies to commit these crimes are also ineligible for expungement. You can't expunge motor vehicle-related violations either, including speeding and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Can I Expunge More Than One Conviction?

Depending on the type of convictions on your record, you may be able to expunge more than one conviction.

Clean Slate Expungements

Under New Jersey's new Clean Slate expungement provisions, you can have your entire criminal record expunged ten years after you've completed your sentence and paid all fines. You may have previously been unable to expunge a conviction because you had something expunged earlier or had multiple indictable offenses. But the new provision will allow expungement in many cases.

Under the law, the court system is to develop an automated system, and you will no longer need to submit a petition. See N.J.S.A. 2C:52-5.3, -5.4 (2019). Once automatic procedures are in place, the New Jersey courts will automatically expunge an entire record of arrests and convictions after ten years of living a crime-free life. However, serious crimes are still not eligible for expungement.

  1. Indictable Offenses

You can expunge one indictable offense, equivalent to a felony, plus three disorderly persons offenses, equivalent to a misdemeanor, expunged five years after completing supervision and payment of fines. There is an “early pathway” to expunge indictable offenses. The court may allow an early expungement after less than five years if:

  • You substantially complied with a court payment plan or had compelling circumstances; or
  • It's been at least four years, you've had no further convictions, and there are compelling circumstances.

See N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2, 52-3 (2019). Compelling circumstances may include job training, education, employment, community involvement, or sports participation opportunities.

  1. Disorderly Persons Offenses

You can expunge up to five disorderly persons offenses, including petty disorderly offenses, five years after completing supervision, and fine payment. You must have no prior criminal history. If you have an indictable offense, the expungement limit is three disorderly persons offenses. The new early pathway option has only a three-year waiting period. See N.J.S.A. 2C:52-3 (2019).

  1. Ordinance Violations

You can have an unlimited number of ordinance violations expunged. But there is a two-year waiting period. See N.J.S.A. 2C:52-4 (2019).

Can I Have a Drug Charge Expunged?

  1. Drug Court

If you complete a drug court program in New Jersey, you may be eligible to have your criminal record expunged regardless of the number of convictions you have on your record or the age you were when convicted. Many drug court participants have extensive criminal records for drug offenses and drug-related offenses like burglary and theft. Under standard New Jersey expungement laws, many of these individuals wouldn't be eligible for expungement because of limits on the number of permitted expungements.

Drug court is an alternative to incarceration for felony offenses. The program helps non-violent offenders through rehabilitation because incarceration can often lead to even more severe addiction problems. Drug court programs focus on alcohol and drug rehabilitation and related criminal activity. The program is rigorous and requires frequent drug testing and court appearances. See N.J.S.A. 2C:35-14(m) (2013).

If you've completed drug court in New Jersey, the court may order all records relating to all of your prior convictions and arrests expunged if:

  • You completed Drug Court;
  • You didn't have another conviction during your term in drug court;
  • You don't have any convictions for murder, sexual assault, kidnapping, arson, or another conviction ineligible for expungement;
  • You don't have any convictions for first or second-degree sales or distribution of a controlled dangerous substance or possession with intent to sell. 

See id.

  1. Other Drug Convictions

 New Jersey law does permit the expungement of drug offenses for young offenders. You may be able to expunge the conviction if: 

  • The drug offense was for possession or use of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS);
  • It has been at least one year since the end of your conviction, termination of probation or parole or discharge from custody, whichever is later;
  • You've met all the conditions of your parole or probation;
  • You haven't had any additional convictions;
  • You didn't have any previous charges dismissed because of a diversion program; and
  • You were 21 or younger at the time of the offense.

 This expungement exception doesn't apply to convictions for sale or distribution of a CDS or possession with intent to sell, except marijuana, where the total amount was less than one ounce of hashish where the amount is less than five grams. See N.J.S.A. 2C:52-5 (2019).

You can now have some drug charges immediately expunged after you've completed your sentence, paid your fine, or completed supervision, including distribution or possession of less than an ounce of marijuana or five grams of hashish and related drug paraphernalia charges. The court will now automatically issue an “order of nondisclosure” covering relevant court, probation, and law enforcement records. This seal will have a similar effect to expungement.  

How Do I Request Expungement from Drug Court?

If you graduated from Drug Court after April 16, 2016, you or your attorney should request expungement from the court shortly before graduating. You will need to fill out a proposed Drug Court Expungement Order listing all of the offenses you want the state to expunge. If you graduated from Drug Court before April 16, 2016, you would need to petition the court for an expungement under N.J.S.A. 2C:52-1, et seq., just like any other expungement.

Can I Expunge My Juvenile Record?

Yes. You can expunge a juvenile record three years after completing a sentence and paying any applicable fines. You can have your juvenile record expunged if:

  • A court didn't adjudicate you as a juvenile delinquent;
  • You haven't committed any adult crimes;
  • You don't have any adult charges pending;
  • You haven't had an adult record expunged;
  • You haven't committed a disqualifying offense like aggravated sexual assault, arson, or manslaughter.

To get your juvenile record expunged, you'll need to:

  • Obtain a copy of your juvenile record;
  • Fill out the appropriate paperwork;
  • File forms in the county of your conviction;
  • Distribute copies to all the law enforcement agencies involved;
  • Attend a hearing; and
  • If the court grants the expungement, notify all law enforcement agencies.

Can I Expunge My Assault Charge?

Yes, you may be able to expunge your assault conviction. In New Jersey, simple assault is a disorderly persons offense unless it happens through a fight or scuffle “entered into by mutual consent.” Then, simple assault is a petty disorderly persons offense. See N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(a) (2013). If the court convicted you of a disorderly persons or petty disorderly persons offense, then you can expunge the conviction if:

  • It's been at least five years since you completed your sentence or paid your fines;
  • If you have an indictable offense on your record, you don't have more than one indictable offenses and three disorderly or petty disorderly offenses, including your assault charge; or
  • If you have other disorderly or petty disorderly persons offenses on your record, you don't have more than five on your record, including your assault charge.

The new early pathway option allows you to expunge this offense if it's been at least three years since you completed your sentence and paid your fines. See N.J.S.A. 2C:52-3 (2019). Moreover, if you go through Drug Court, however, special expungement rules apply, and you may be able to expunge your entire record upon successful completion of the program.

The Police Charged Me with Assault but Dropped the Charges? Can I Have My Arrest Record Expunged?

Yes, you can have an arrest record that didn't result in a conviction expunged immediately.

Can I Expunge My Burglary Conviction?

Yes, you may be able to expunge your burglary conviction. Burglary in New Jersey is typically a third or second-degree offense. If you use a weapon to commit burglary, it becomes a second-degree offense. You may be able to expunge a second-degree or third-degree burglary offense if:

  • You don't have any other indictable offenses on your record, before the burglary conviction or after;
  • You don't have more than three disorderly persons offenses on your record;
  • It's been at least five years since you completed your sentence and fine payments.

You may be eligible for an early pathway expungement after less than five years if:

  • You substantially complied with a court payment plan or had compelling circumstances; or
  • It's been at least four years, you've had no further convictions, and there are compelling circumstances.

If you've completed Drug Court, special expungement rules apply, and you may be able to expunge your entire record.

Can I Expunge My DUI Conviction?

No, you can't expunge any motor vehicle-related convictions in New Jersey. New Jersey's expungement law limits expungements to criminal records, and a DUI is a traffic offense. New Jersey law states, “[n]othing contained in this chapter shall apply to arrests or conviction for motor vehicle offenses contained in Title 39.” N.J.S.A. 2C:52-28 (2019).

I Want to Become a Police Officer? Will Expunging My Record Help?

When you expunge your record, while state law enforcement agencies will remove your records from their databases, the records still exist. More than half of New Jersey law enforcement agencies hire per the Civil Service regulations in Title 11A of the New Jersey code. Under those regulations, law enforcement agencies can and will ask you about prior convictions, even if you expunged them from your record. “Arrests and criminal records. Eligibles may be questioned as to criminal convictions and pending criminal charges. Eligibles for a law enforcement, fire fighter or correction officer title may also be questioned as to any arrest.”

N.J.S.A. 11A:4-10 (2013).

Other police departments and precincts follow their own rules and regulations, and they may or may not question you about expunged convictions. In general, however, an indictable offense or felony conviction will probably keep you from becoming a law enforcement officer. If you had a felony arrest that resulted in a conviction of a lesser offense, you might still be eligible. However, serious or violent misdemeanor convictions may also prevent your hiring.

I want to Become a Teacher? Will Expunging My Record Help?

As part of the certification process to become a teacher, the New Jersey Department of Education will conduct a Criminal History Review, including a background check through the FBI and the New Jersey State Police. Many convictions can disqualify you from becoming a licensed teacher in New Jersey, including first and second-degree indictable offenses, violent crimes, weapons offenses, and drug offenses, among others.

If you expunge your record, however, you no longer have to disclose your criminal record legally. Moreover, if your Criminal History Review reveals crimes that aren't disqualifying, the Department of Education cannot disclose them to any employing educational institutions. There are, however, some crimes ineligible for expungement.

I Want to Become a Nurse? Will Expunging My Record Help?

If you want to become a Registered Nurse or Licensed Practical Nurse in New Jersey, you will need to go through a criminal background check. See N.J.S.A. 45:1-30, et seq. (2013). Nurses handle sensitive personal information, prescription medications, and care for the health and safety of patients. As a result, the New Jersey Board of Nursing carefully scrutinizes all applicants for licensing.

However, if you have already expunged your record, it shouldn't impede your nursing license. New Jersey law precludes a licensing authority from discriminating against you or denying your application because of an expungement or pardon. See N.J.S.A. 2A:168-A3 (2013). If you are in nursing school or contemplating nursing school and have not yet expunged your record, you should see an experienced expungement attorney as soon as possible. The New Jersey expungement process can take anywhere from eight months to a year or more. If you have already expunged your record, you should request an FBI background check to ensure that your record is clean.

Do I Need an Attorney to Expunge My Record?

While New Jersey does not require you to retain an attorney for expunging records, the process is long and complicated for many people. If you aren't eligible for an automatic expungement, an attorney can explain your options, ensure you file the proper paperwork, and make the process as painless as possible. If you are contemplating expunging your record, attorney Joseph D. Lento can help. He has many years of experience in criminal defense and expungement. Call the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 or contact them online to discuss your options.

​​​Contact The Lento Law Firm Today

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When it comes to criminal defense cases, you need the right person in your corner. To learn more about how Mr. Lento can help you, call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686. or contact him online.

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