Did you know that over 70 million Americans have a criminal record?
One of the most difficult, even devastating, results of a criminal conviction is that it can continue to complicate your life for years to come. People with convictions on their record may find it much harder than others to obtain employment, rent an apartment, get approval for a mortgage, and pursue a college degree—among other barriers.
Fortunately, a “permanent record” doesn't have to stay permanent, thanks to a process known as expungement. Read on to learn how criminal expungement in New Jersey works when it comes to the crime of theft and whether it might be a good option for you.
First Things First: A Definition
Expungement doesn't completely or unilaterally erase a crime—but for many purposes, it comes close. When a person's convictions are expunged, they will no longer show up on background checks. Potential landlords, employers, loan officers, and other members of the general public will not be able to see that the individual was once convicted of a crime.
Moreover, an expungement means that people are not required to disclose their convictions when applying for employment, loans, and college admissions. In these circumstances, the applicant is usually required to indicate whether they have been convicted of a felony or other offense. Under New Jersey law, they can legally tick off the “no” box after their crime has been expunged—a real boon to anyone who doesn't want a criminal past to affect their law-abiding future.
What Information Can Be Removed from a Record?
In casual speech, a person's “record” is a broad term that refers to their criminal history: arrests, charges, court appearances, convictions, incarceration, and probation or parole. But it is more than just a list of facts. As set forth in the official New Jersey Statutes Annotated (N.J.S.A.) 2C:52-1, “[e]xpunged records shall include complaints, warrants, arrests, commitments, processing records, fingerprints, photographs, index cards, ‘rap sheets' and judicial docket records.”
When an order of expungement is granted, this information is “extracted and isolated” from public view. However, that doesn't mean the records are entirely deleted or destroyed.
Exceptions to the Expungement Rule
Law enforcement agencies and agencies associated with the New Jersey judicial system can still access records that have been expunged. If the individual commits additional crimes, they will not be considered a first-time offender; their record will be taken into account when it comes to bail and sentencing, as well.
Independent, non-governmental entities such as the N.J. Department of Insurance may alter their records in accordance with an expungement. However, they are not required to.
Lastly, out-of-state arrests and convictions cannot be expunged in New Jersey.
Expunging Convictions of Theft
Expungements are only possible for certain lesser offenses. They cannot be granted for more serious crimes, such as sexual assault, robbery, kidnapping, or criminal homicide.
What about shoplifting or theft?
Of course, the severity of any crime factors heavily into the potential penalties for committing it. In New Jersey, the terms “felony” and “misdemeanor” are not used; instead, these crimes are classified respectively as “indictable offenses” and “disorderly persons offenses.”
For cases of theft, the cutoff between these two levels of offense is $200. Under that amount, the crime is known as shoplifting and is considered a disorderly persons offense. In some cases, it may be downgraded to an even lesser offense known as a municipal ordinance violation. If so, the penalty could be a fine or probation.
If the monetary value of the property in question exceeds $200, however, it's considered theft, which is an indictable offense. Theft may be prosecuted, but it is also possible, particularly for first-time offenders, to be offered a pretrial intervention, or PTI. This is a diversionary program that generally substitutes probation or community service for a traditional trial, sentencing, and incarceration. It also shortens the waiting period before expungement proceedings can take place.
Both shoplifting and theft are eligible for expungement in the state of New Jersey.
Recent Changes to New Jersey Expungement Law
In 2019, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed an expungement reform bill that expanded the scope of eligibility and made the process of requesting expungement easier. The resulting law provides for:
- “Clean slate” expungement in certain circumstances
- Expedited expungement of marijuana convictions
- Implementation of an automated criminal record expungement system
- Looser eligibility requirements
- A one-year reduction in the waiting period for indictable offense expungement requests (from 6 years to 5)
There is almost always a minimum waiting period before a New Jersey resident can request expungement of their arrest or conviction. How long they must wait depends on the nature and severity of their crime.
The Process of Requesting Expungement
The first step on the path to expungement involves gathering together all the documentation concerning the conviction. Next, the petitioner and their attorney will need to complete several forms. These include a Petition for Expungement, an Order for Hearing, and a proposed Expungement Order. This paperwork must then be notarized and filed.
Immediately upon receipt of the filed documents, a copy of each must be served—via certified mail, with return receipt requested—to all governmental agencies associated with your case. These include the New Jersey Attorney General, the county prosecutor, clerks, and other recipients; your New Jersey expungement attorney will provide a complete list and help you with this necessary, and time-sensitive, step.
There may be a hearing to determine whether or not your record should be expunged. In most cases, especially if the expungement is uncontested, the petitioner will not be required to go to court; instead, the Expungement Order will be signed and filed, and then a copy mailed to them. Nevertheless, it's always a smart idea to be prepared for a court appearance just in case a hearing is held.
The Necessity of an Experienced Expungement Attorney
As with all aspects of the legal system, petitioning for expungement is complicated and time-consuming. While there is no legal requirement to secure the services of an attorney, it is advisable to do so. Assistance from an attorney who has substantial experience in this area of law will ensure that the entire process goes as smoothly as possible.
Do you have a conviction of shoplifting, theft, or any other offense that is negatively impacting your life and your livelihood? Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm can answer any questions you may have and get started on the process of expunging your convictions, so you can live your best life going forward. Call us at 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation.