Make no mistake: the state of New Jersey takes domestic violence very seriously. Police must arrest an abuser, for instance, if there are any physical signs of abuse, but they don't need those signs to make an arrest. In addition, penalties in such cases can be severe: a first-degree felony conviction can come with a prison sentence of up to 20 years, and even a fourth-degree conviction can get you eighteen months.
Worse though, even after you've served your time, a domestic violence conviction on your record can follow you for the rest of your life.
Luckily state legislators across the country have begun to recognize that ex-convicts don't deserve to be punished indefinitely. Sentences are enough, and shouldn't be followed by years of frustration and harassment. Many of these legislatures, in fact, have begun writing laws that make it easier to apply for and have your criminal record expunged. Such laws don't apply to the most serious crimes like murder or rape. They do offer hope, however, if you're looking to put your life back together after serving a sentence for a lower-level offense like domestic violence.
What is Expungement, and what are its Benefits?
The word “expunge” literally means to erase or remove completely. As it applies to the law, expunging means to remove a conviction from a person's state or federal criminal record. In such cases, the court is ordered to treat the conviction as though it had never occurred. The conviction doesn't appear on public records, and—importantly—it doesn't appear on background checks.
Why would you want to expunge your record? Well, in this day-and-age, the benefits are actually pretty obvious. It seems like everyone uses background checks these days. Most employers, for instance, use background checks to screen applicants, and many shy away from hiring anyone with a record. Apartment complexes use background checks as well. You could even be disqualified from volunteering by a background check. Clearing your name, then, can work wonders to improve your quality of life.
Will an expungement solve all of your problems? Of course not. You should carefully consider if it is right for you. If you live in a small community, for example, you may not be able to avoid public knowledge of your offense. In fact, the first amendment gives anyone the right to talk about your conviction. That includes social media posts. If your name has appeared on an online newspaper site, it may not be easy to get that taken down. Expunging your record can often allow you to start over in a new location, somewhere no one knows you. In simplest terms, an unblemished record reduces the likelihood that anyone will be able to judge you for your past offenses.
New Jersey's Approach to Expungement
As it happens, New Jersey has been leading the charge recently when it comes to expungement. In fact, Governor Phil Murphy and the state's legislature passed legislation in 2019 that simplifies the expungement application process. At the same time, they created a task force to study the possibility of an automated system, one that would expunge some offenses after 10 years, without anyone even needing to file a petition.
Those measures offer hope for the future, but the future's not here quite yet. For now, the state allows persons convicted of offenses to petition for expungement five years after the original court's conditions have been satisfied.
In New Jersey, the same process works for those who have been arrested but not convicted. An arrest and trial can generate a mountain of documents and records, but an expungement can make sure these too remain hidden.
One final thing to know about New Jersey: if you are convicted of any further crimes, even small crimes like petty disorderly persons offenses, you are ineligible for expungement.
What About Domestic Violence Cases?
The good news is, if you've done the time for your domestic violence conviction and avoided any new problems with the law, you are entitled to petition the court to expunge your record.
The bad news is, petitioning isn't always easy. You must:
- Identify or obtain your criminal records.
- File a notarized expungement request.
- Send the request to the appropriate government agencies.
- Attend a hearing about the request (in some cases).
- If the petition is approved, submit the final order to the appropriate government agencies for execution.
Completing all of these steps can be a lengthy, time-consuming process. Requesting your records from law enforcement agencies, for example, can be frustrating. As you might imagine, not all of these agencies respond promptly. And New Jersey doesn't yet offer an expedited process. It often takes six months to clear your record, even longer if you don't file your paperwork properly.
In addition, you should know that courts don't always grant petitions for expungement. That can happen for a variety of reasons, some of which are completely avoidable. Suppose, for example, a court determines you haven't satisfied all the conditions of your conviction, but unfortunately, it's basing its decision on current conditions rather than the ones you were sentenced under. It may surprise you to learn this, but courts have been known to make mistakes from time to time.
What does all of this mean? It means that ultimately you're probably better off hiring an attorney to help you file and, if necessary, argue your petition than trying to deal with it yourself. An attorney can ensure everything is done right the first time, and they can research the law so nothing gets missed.
Call Attorney Joseph D. Lento
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has unparalleled experience representing clients in expungement petition hearings. What can he do for you? He knows the law on expungement inside and out, including all the most recent changes. He also knows the kinds of pitfalls that can occur during filing and how to avoid them. Most importantly, he recognizes that you deserve a fresh start. A past conviction shouldn't haunt you for the rest of your life. Let Joseph D. Lento make sure it doesn't.
If you're thinking about expunging your record, contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.