If you were ever charged with harassment in the state of New Jersey, you probably didn't do hard time. The maximum penalty for this crime is 30 days in jail and up to $500 in fines. However, even if you were sentenced over a decade ago, you could still be paying for your crime. If your harassment conviction is still part of your criminal record, it's still public knowledge, and it can still be used against you.
The good news is, you can do something about your criminal record to keep it from continuing to do you harm. An expungement can remove a criminal conviction like harassment from your record and give you an entirely clean slate. An expungement isn't exactly the same as if the conviction never happened, but it's as close as you can get without a time machine.
Why Expungements Matter
There may once have been a time in America when you could pay for crimes you committed and then just resume your life—when criminal sentences ended once you left prison. If that time ever did exist, though, it certainly doesn't exist anymore. These days, it's no exaggeration to say that the punishment for most convictions, even convictions for relatively minor offenses like harassment, can last for the rest of a person's life.
The problem is our digital age. First, records aren't private anymore. True, even in the old days, they were always available to the public, but for the most part, records remained in dusty file cabinets in the basements of crumbling courthouses where only Perry Mason bothered to track them down. Now, we can pull up records of essentially anyone, and faster than we can snap our fingers.
Records aren't just more easily accessible than they were in the past, though. They're also more permanent. If your name shows up in the local paper for harassment, for instance, that article could still be floating around online fifty, sixty, a hundred years from now. All it takes is a Google search to find out what your neighbors have been up to for their entire lives.
What does all this mean? It means that if you've been convicted of a crime, that conviction is often widely known, at least in your community, and it never goes away. Worse, with the advent of “background check” services, your conviction can pop up when you're trying to rent a house, or it can prevent you from getting a job. In simplest terms, you can wind up paying for your harassment conviction for...well, forever.
What is an Expungement?
An expungement is the legal removal of items from your criminal record. Once an expungement has been granted, in fact, courts are supposed to treat a conviction as though it never happened. For a long time, expungements were only available for juvenile crimes. As the nature of records has changed though, it's easy to see why expungement is becoming more and more popular among state legislatures in the U.S. Lawmakers have realized that without expungement, anyone convicted of any crime faces a lifetime sentence, and that's not how the justice system was designed to work.
To be clear, an expungement won't solve all of your problems. If you live in a small community, you may always have some neighbors who refuse to forgive what you did. Unfortunately, you can't erase memories. You also can't erase online newspapers or social media posts.
You can, however, relocate, if you choose, to a place where no one knows anything about your past. And if your conviction has been expunged, no one can dig that past up again, at least not through law enforcement or court records. More importantly, that conviction won't show up on background checks anymore. Job and rental applications suddenly become much less stressful.
How Does Expungement Work?
In New Jersey, harassment is treated as a petty disorderly persons offense. You can petition to have up to two such offenses expunged. The only restrictions are that you must wait five years after the last offense before filing, and you must not have been convicted during those five years for any additional crimes.
The process itself is relatively straightforward, though it does require some time and energy. The simplified version includes these steps:
- Obtain a copy of your State Police Criminal History Record.
- Complete a set of forms requesting the expungement.
- File this paperwork with the court.
- Receive the paperwork back with a court time and date.
- Distribute this copies of this paperwork to several local and state agencies.
- Attend the hearing if necessary.
- If granted, distribute the finalized expungement order to relevant local and state agencies.
Why You Need a Lawyer to Help with Your Expungement
These steps might appear so easy they might tempt you to file an expungement petition yourself. In fact, you can do that in New Jersey. However, the state actually recommends you “try to get a lawyer.” Despite the fact that the steps in the process seem logical, a good deal can and sometimes does go wrong.
One of the most common problems has to do with satisfying the conditions of your original sentence. The sentencing guidelines for all crimes change over time, and it isn't uncommon for a court to hold you responsible for a condition that didn't apply at the time you were convicted. Lawyers have the background and expertise to research the law before you get to the hearing and to prepare arguments for this possibility.
In addition, lawyers can often expedite an expungement. They know how to talk with law enforcement agents and judicial officials, and often they can get government departments to respond quickly to information requests.
Why You Need Joseph D. Lento to Help with Your Expungement
You don't just need any lawyer, though. You need Joseph D. Lento. Joseph D. Lento unparalleled experience with expungements. He knows how to make sure your petition goes smoothly and that you get the fresh start you deserve.
If you're thinking about expunging your record, contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.