An expungement is a removal of a criminal charge from one’s record. Any person can file for expungement of a prior criminal offense in New Jersey, up to and including certain felony offenses.
The process from filing the expugnemnet petition to getting it granted typically takes 3-4 months. If there is a in-person hearing required, then the process can take up to 6-8 months. In-person hearings are rare and only required if the prosecutor objects, which happens in drug dealing cases or those where the person is seeking an early pathway expungement to reduce his waiting time. Once the petition is granted, it will take an additional month for the various NJ agencies, such as the state police, to completely remove all records related to the incident.
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However, there is a waiting period before you’re able to begin the process. The length of time one must wait to file for an expungement varies with the severity of the crime, the court sentence, and other circumstances. The different levels of offenses are as follows: felony (indictable offenses), misdemeanors (disorderly persons offenses and petty disorderly persons offenses), municipal ordinance violations, juvenile delinquents, youth drug offenders, and dismissed cases (arrests not resulting in conviction, PTI, and Conditional Discharge).
Waiting times are calculated from the date the sentence is completed. Usually the clock begins ticking when person has finished his or her sentence which could be any of the following events: date of conviction, payment of fine, completion of probation or parole, and release from incarceration.
Felonies – Indictable Offenses
The waiting time to expunge one’s record after a conviction varies depending on the degree of the conviction. N.J.S. 2C:52-2 defines the waiting period to expunge a felony (also known as an indictable offense). Under normal circumstances, a person must wait a minimum of 10 years from the date of the person’s conviction, payment of fine, completion of probation or parole, or release from incarceration, whichever of these dates is the latest. However, most people qualify to expunge their felony in 5 years under the exception detailed below – this is called a “public interest” exception or “early pathway” expungement.
There are two exceptions to the ten-year waiting period.
1. Fines not yet paid off. The court may consider a petition for expungement if less than ten years has passed from the payment of a fine, but ten years has passed from any of the other criteria, and the person has thus far complied with a payment plan in accordance with N.J.S. 2C:46-1. This means as long as you’ve been paying the fine to the best of your ability, you do not have to wait until the entire fine is paid off.
2. Public interest expungement. Additionally, the court may consider a petition for expungement if
- at least five years have passed since the date of the person’s conviction, payment of fine, completion of probation or parole, or release from incarceration, whichever is later
- the person has not been convicted of any crimes, disorderly persons offenses, or petty disorderly persons offenses since the conviction in question
- the court determines that expungement would be in the best interest of the public
To determine whether or not an expungement is in the best interest of the public, the court will look at your efforts and accomplishments since the crime that show you are rehabilitated. This may include completing school, holding a steady job, and being actively involved in your community.
Example of Felony Expungement Rule
You were convicted of the sale or distribution of marijuana (under 25 grams) on January 31, 2012, and were sentenced to 18 months of incarceration (parole ineligible) and a fine of $25,000. If you were to pay the fine in full immediately after your release from incarceration, the ten year clock would start ticking on July 31, 2014, meaning you would be eligible to petition for expungement on July 31, 2024 (10 years). However, you could still be considered eligible to petition on this date if you had not yet paid the fine in full, but were holding to a payment plan issued by the court. Finally, you could be eligible to petition for expungement as early as July 31, 2019 (5 years) if you are not convicted of any other offenses since the conviction you wish to expunge, and the court believes that your expungement would be in the public interest.
Misdemeanor – Disorderly Persons Offenses
The waiting period for a misdemeanor is only half that of indictable offenses, at 5 years from completion of the sentence. Recently an exception was passed that reduces the waiting period to 3 years if conditions are met. This is similar to the public interested exception for felony expungements outlined above.
However, to be eligible for an expungement of a misdemeanor, one must have not been convicted of 3 separate misdemeanors in total. If the person also has a felony conviction on record, then he can’t have more than 2 misdemeanors in total. Learn more about how to expunge a misdemeanor.
Municipal Ordinance Violations
Someone convicted of a violation of a municipal ordinance need only wait 2 years from completion of the sentence. In addition, the person must not have been convicted of any prior or subsequent felony offenses, or more than two misdemeanor offenses. Learn more about municipal ordinance expungement.
For the purpose of expungement, whatever act the juvenile is convicted for would be classified as if the juvenile were an adult. Therefore, the same waiting period applies. For example, if a person was found juvenile delinquent of shoplifting $400 worth of merchandise, a felony of the forth degree, the person would probably have to wait 10 years from completing the court’s sentence before applying for an expungement (or 5 years if he s eligible for an early pathways expungement).
However, there is one exception that allows a juvenile delinquent to have his or her entire delinquent record expunged if 5 years have passed since the person was released from legal custody or supervision, or five years have passed from the entry of any court order not involving legal custody. Post-incarceration supervision is not included in the calculation of the five year period. There are other requirements as well. Learn more about juvenile record expungement.
Youth Drug Offenses
Any person convicted for the possession or use of a controlled dangerous substance while 21 years of age or younger may file for an expungement after 1 year has passed from the date of sentence completion (2C:52-5). The person must not have violated any terms of his probation or parole, may not have been convicted of any previous or subsequent criminal act or for the sale or use of a controlled dangerous substance, and must not have had any criminal matter dismissed because of acceptance into supervisory treatment. The one year waiting period does not apply to sale, distribution, or possession with intent to sell, unless only a small amount of marijuana (under 25 grams) or hashish (under 5 grams) was invovled. Learn more about youth drug offense expungement.
Dismissed Cases – Arrests Not Resulting in Conviction
A person may immediately file for expungement if he is acquitted, the proceedings are dismissed, or he is discharged without conviction. However, if the person’s charges were dismissed because of a diversionary program, such as Pretrial Intervention or Conditional Discharge, the person must wait 6 months from the completion of such program. A person whose acquittal, discharge, or dismissal was because the person was ruled to be insane or lacking the mental capacity to commit a crime may not file for an expungement. Learn more about arrest record expungement.