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In New Jersey, you DO NOT need a lawyer to expunge your criminal record. In fact, many people get an expungement without help from a lawyer. The procedure is relatively simple and the courts even provide a do-it-yourself kit with decent instructions. However, there are situations where you do want to consider hiring a lawyer.
What does an expungement involve?
First you must find out if you’re eligible for a New Jersey expungement. We provide a free eligibility test to help you figure this out. If you are eligible, the filing process consists of a few repetitive tasks:
- Fill out and sign forms
- Photocopy forms
- Mail forms
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You have to do each of these actions several times during the course of the expungement procedure. You don’t have to go to law school to know how to fill, copy, and mail. Simply follow the instructions and your record will be cleaned. Usually, you don’t even have to go to court. Note: Making a mistake means you’ll have to start over.
What does a lawyer do?
A lawyer will make sure you are eligible for an expungement. If you are, the lawyer will proceed to:
- Fill out forms
- Photocopy forms
- Mail forms
Basically, a law firm will do everything you can do on your own. The process is so simple that lawyers will rarely actually perform these tasks. Instead, most will ask their paralegals to do it.
However, lawyers will take care of everything for you. For this they’ll charge you $750+, which sometimes does not include court/mailing fees. For some people the act of filling out, photocopying, and mailing some forms is not worth that much money. But for others who prefer getting the process done right the first time, a lawyer is a great investment. Therefore, even though lawyers are not necessary for simple cases, such as a single dismissed case, they are good if you want to make sure things are done correctly and quickly.
Situations where you might want a lawyer
Lawyers will often claim that they are necessary to get an expungement. (Of course, they are biased because they don’t want to lose business.) The truth is, some expungement cases can be successfully completed without the help of a lawyer. However, there are a few situations where you might want to consider hiring a lawyer.
- You have more than three convictions (not dismissals) – Figuring out if you’re eligible becomes slightly more complicated if you’ve been convicted multiple times. Further, the amount of paperwork you must go through may increase.
- You have convictions outside the state of New Jersey – States have different laws on expungements and you will have to figure out whether you can clear your entire criminal record or just part of it. You may also have to file in the other state.
- You want to expunge possession with intent to distribute/sell drugs (not marijuana under 50 grams) – There is a strong chance that the prosecutor will object to your petition and you will have to appear in court for a hearing. Having a lawyer can help you argue why you deserve an expungement.
- You want to expunge a violent felony 5 years after termination of your sentence – Felony convictions of violent offenses are looked at harder than other offenses and the likelihood of having your expungement petition denied is higher. You may also have to appear in court to argue why you deserve a clean record. In these situations, a lawyer can help defend you against an over-zealous prosecutor.
- You don’t have time – The expungement process can take anywhere between 10 and 20 hours of photocopying and mailing over the span of the 3-4 month process. If you are extremely busy, a lawyer can do it for you.
If you’re interested in speaking with an experienced lawyer, get a free consultation first.