Whenever a person has a conviction on their record, it can cause many difficulties in obtaining employment, professional licensing, and the right to vote. Even if a criminal case doesn’t result in a formal conviction, the arrest record and the criminal prosecution can sometimes remain, causing similar problems.
In certain cases, many convictions and records of arrest can be sealed so that they are off-limits to all but law enforcement personnel. In other cases, the person’s record can be subject to a process known as expungement, wherein a criminal file is removed from public records completely.
What Is the Difference Between Expunging Your Record and Sealing Your Record?
The term “expungement” is often used interchangeably with other similar terms, especially the term “record sealing.” Nevertheless, expungement is different from record sealing in a few critical ways. When a criminal record is expunged, it is treated as if the charges never existed, and they are no longer associated at all with that individual’s criminal history. It typically means that the charges have “disappeared” from the court system.
On the other hand, record sealing means that the charges do still exist; nevertheless, the records cannot be accessed as the records are closed to the general public. This means that individuals or parties such as employers cannot gain access to those records, even though they still technically exist in the system.
In fact, a sealed conviction can occasionally be used to increase the severity of a future sentence. This is applicable in cases where the person’s record as a “repeat offender” may be of interest. This can happen even if the records are technically sealed.
New Jersey Expungement
In New Jersey, a criminal conviction may be expunged in some cases. Once a conviction is expunged, it may not be accessed by the general public and may only be used for extremely limited purposes, such as a future criminal investigation.
Circumstances for Expungement
Expungement is available for a defendant if:
- The defendant was not convicted of the charges that were brought against them;
- It has been 2, 5, or 10 years (depending on the type and gravity of the offense) since a sentence has been completed, and the defendant was not convicted of any other crimes during that time period;
- The individual is seeking to expunge a juvenile record;
- The charges were for a first-time minor drug offense, and the defendant was given a conditional discharge; a year has passed since probation was terminated.
Circumstance Where Expungement Is Impermissible
Expungement is not available in New Jersey under the following circumstances:
- Certain serious offenses are not expungeable, such as aggravated assault, robbery, arson, etc.
- If New Jersey has a special interest in retaining the conviction records, a court may exercise its discretion and refuse to expunge them.
New Jersey’s expungement statutes state that courts must hear expungement requests within 35 to 60 days from the date of filing. Nevertheless, the entire process typically takes a few months due to scheduling and caseload issues. Furthermore, failure to provide sufficient documentation may result in incomplete records, leading to further delay.
Unlike other states, New Jersey does not limit the number of times a person may file for expungement.
What Happens If My Criminal Record Gets Expunged?
Typically, if you have gotten your conviction expunged, you can legally deny ever having been convicted of a crime in almost any situation. If you are looking for a job and the interviewer asks if you have ever been convicted of a crime and the conviction has been expunged, you can honestly say that you have never been convicted of a crime.
Nevertheless, exceptions apply to this rule as specific jobs require that you disclose any convictions even if they have been expunged (caring for children, government jobs, etc.).
Can You Expunge a Juvenile Record?
The expungement of juvenile criminal records is automatic in many states, but this varies. You should seek the advice of a qualified attorney specializing in sealing juvenile records. Generally, expungement is only available to those who have maintained a clean criminal record in the intervening years.
Can You Expunge Misdemeanors from Your Criminal Record?
Misdemeanor crimes are typically defined as less severe crimes punishable by a sentence of less than a year in county jail (not a prison facility) or some monetary fines. Generally speaking, most misdemeanors can be expunged from a person’s record. Some commonly expunged misdemeanor convictions include:
- Traffic crimes, particularly first-time drunk driving or DUI charges;
- Various non-violent crimes;
- Simple theft-related crimes;
- Trespassing and vandalism; and
- Resisting arrest.
Misdemeanor expungements can help to clear a person’s criminal record. Nevertheless, it cannot undo certain penalties, such as restoring lost gun ownership rights or excusing the individual from penalties that involve registration on a sex offender’s list.
Can You Expunge a Felony from Your Criminal Record?
Felony crimes are generally defined as more severe crimes punishable by more than one year in a prison facility (not a county jail facility) and higher criminal fines or fees. Felony charges are generally more challenging to have expunged than most misdemeanor crimes.
A general rule of thumb is that the more serious the felony, the lower the chance it can be expunged from a person’s record. More severe crimes are associated with more extended sentences and higher criminal fees than less serious ones.
Usually, less severe felonies like non-violent crimes (such as possession of drugs) are more likely to be eligible for expungement. More severe crimes that are not typically eligible to be expunged include sexual crimes like rape or sexual assault, felonies involving victims younger than 18 years old, and other similar crimes.
Lastly, federal convictions for felonies typically cannot be expunged. Nevertheless, in some circumstances, the defendant may be granted a pardon in connection with a federal felony conviction (though this usually happens under very limited circumstances).
Additional Information About Record Sealing or Expungement
It is essential to keep in mind that:
- Many felonies are not eligible for expungement
- Nearly every sex offense is not eligible for record sealing
- Expungement usually applies to juvenile offenses or misdemeanors
Where Can I Find a Lawyer to Expunge My Record?
If you are concerned about whether your criminal record may be used against you and feel that you might qualify for expungement, it’s crucial to contact a lawyer to help you. A good expungement lawyer can help you understand your options and your rights under the law. If you have any specific questions about the expungement laws in New Jersey, your lawyer can provide you with legal research for your inquiry.
Do I Need a Lawyer to Expunge a Conviction in New Jersey?
Perhaps; many New Jersey expungement lawyers are experienced in obtaining an expungement. A New Jersey expungement attorney can speak on your behalf during court and help you file all the necessary paperwork.
In other words, the attorney can present your case to the judge in a better light than you may be able to. If you are interested in getting one of your criminal charges expunged, the best thing you can do for yourself is to find an experienced expungement lawyer on LegalMatch.