Having a criminal history can prevent you from accessing rights and privileges that are afforded to those without crimes in their past. You can have trouble finding a job, renting property, applying for government benefits, joining the military, possessing a firearm, and you can suffer reputational damage. If you have a crime of child abuse on your record, you could face further restrictions.
The state of New Jersey has implemented mechanisms to help give people with criminal histories a fresh start. With these laws in place, it may be possible to expunge your child abuse crime, given that you meet certain conditions.
Child Abuse in New Jersey (9:6-1)
In New Jersey, child abuse is an indictable crime of the fourth degree. New Jersey Statute 9:6-1 defines abuse, abandonment, cruelty, and neglect, all of which are illegal.
- Abuse: Examples of abuse are using excessive physical restraint on a child or isolating a child to deprive them of ordinary social contact.
- Abandonment: As an example, a parent or guardian who has custody of a child commits abandonment when failing to care for the child and thereby exposing them to physical or moral risk.
- Cruelty: Examples of cruelty can be inflicting severe corporal punishment on a child, inflicting unnecessary mental or physical pain, or habitually tormenting a child.
- Neglect: An example is when a parent or guardian willfully fails to provide the proper and sufficient food, clothing, maintenance, regular school education, medical care, and clean and proper home for a child in their custody.
Child abuse is an indictable offense in New Jersey, equivalent to felonies in other states. Also, if you have reasonable cause to believe an act of child abuse has occurred and you do not report it to the New Jersey Department of Children and Families, Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P), under N.J.S. 9:6-8.14 you may be charged with a disorderly person's offense (equivalent to a misdemeanor).
Penalties for Child Abuse, Abandonment, Cruelty, or Neglect
Anyone guilty of child abuse, abandonment, cruelty, or neglect in New Jersey will be charged with a fourth-degree indictable offense, which carries the following penalties:
- Fine of up to $10,000
- Up to 18 months in jail
Can You Get a Child Abuse Crime Expunged in New Jersey?
As a fourth-degree indictable offense, child abuse is eligible for expungement in New Jersey. You can petition for an expungement of an indictable offense after waiting five years without having committed any more crimes. If you have another indictable offense on your record, or more than three disorderly persons offenses, you will have to wait longer than five years and may face more restrictions when getting an expungement.
You may qualify for a four-year waiting period instead of five if you go through New Jersey's early pathway program.
Becoming a Teacher with an Expunged Record
Child abuse is a crime that will prevent you from becoming a private or public school teacher in the state of New Jersey. To become a teacher, you must pass the certification process, which includes a criminal background check by the Criminal History Unit (CHU). If the CHU sees child abuse on your criminal history, you will not be certified to be a teacher. Once you have a child abuse offense expunged, however, you no longer have a requirement to disclose the crime.
New Jersey Child Abuse Registry
Due to the way New Jersey handles child abuse reporting, you may have the opportunity to appeal a report of child abuse before you're charged with a crime. A report of child abuse against you may also be expunged if it's considered unfounded by DCP&P.
The state of New Jersey learns about incidents of child abuse through reports made to the DCP&P, which keeps a statewide Child Abuse Registry of individuals who have committed child abuse. Reports do not result in an automatic criminal charge and conviction. The DCP&P must investigate each report to determine its legitimacy. They will decide if the report of child abuse is substantiated, established, not established, or unfounded.
Results of Child Abuse Investigations by DCP&P
- Substantiated: The child has been abused or neglected and absolute conditions exist (such as the child died or nearly died, or sustained severe injuries that required medical attention).
- Established: There is evidence of abuse or neglect but absolute conditions do not exist.
- Not established: The evidence indicates that the child was harmed or at risk of harm and no absolute conditions exist.
- Unfounded: There is no evidence of abuse or neglect.
Expungement of Unfounded Allegations of Child Abuse (N.J.S. 9:6-8.40a)
If your DCP&P finding is unfounded, your name won't go in the Child Abuse Registry, and DCP&P will automatically expunge the records after three years. For findings of not established, your name won't go in the Registry, but the DCP&P will hold on to your confidential records, and they cannot be expunged.
A DCP&P finding of substantiated or established will get your name in the Child Abuse Registry, but it won't go on your criminal record. Some employers can access the Child Abuse Registry, however, and it can prevent you from being a foster parent. Although you can't expunge your name from the Registry with a substantiated or established finding, you will have an opportunity to appeal DCP&P's decision before they add your name to the Registry permanently.
DCP&P won't charge you with a crime of child abuse. They must refer their findings to the Prosecutor's office, who may file charges against you.
Contact an Expungement Attorney
The courts will not require you to have an attorney to petition for an expungement, but the process is long and complex. To have all your records fully removed, you may have to work with several agencies,
including the police, courts, and more. An experienced expungement attorney will know how to handle the process and various agencies involved.
Joseph D. Lento is a criminal defense attorney who has helped many clients clear their records. He understands the importance of a fresh start and works tirelessly to make it happen. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at (888) 535-3686 to discuss your expungement.