In New Jersey, a person with a criminal record can ask the court to expunge or seal the record under the circumstances described below.
Expungement represents a process that hides or seals criminal records (maintained by the government) from the public view. Generally, the court will grant a person's petition to expunge their criminal records after charges have been dismissed or the person completes the terms of the sentence and remains crime-free for a period of time. Because a criminal record can hamper a person’s ability to get a job, apartment, or professional license, expunging those records can provide a pathway to a better life.
Expungement, however, does not wipe the slate completely clean. For one, news stories and information on the Internet will not likely go away. Also, criminal justice agencies—such as the courts and law enforcement—can still see these records for purposes of charging and sentencing in the event of future crimes.
In New Jersey, eligibility for expungement depends on several factors, including the result of the case (convicted or not convicted), the offense level, the crime, any subsequent crimes, completion of the sentence, and completion of a waiting period.
New Jersey's expungement laws are fairly broad. But lawmakers have decided that certain crimes (like murder and kidnapping) cannot be expunged, no matter how much time has passed. The New Jersey Statutes contains a long list of indictable crimes that are not eligible for expungement, including serious drug crimes, murder, kidnapping, sex crimes, false imprisonment, robbery, arson, child endangerment, human trafficking, and crimes committed by public officials in their official capacity. If you have a conviction for an ineligible crime, you do not qualify for expungement under any of the laws discussed in this article. (N.J. Stat. § 2C:52-2 (2021).)
The sections below outline several avenues for the expungement of eligible crimes. But know that laws can change. Lawmakers can expand expungement laws to add eligible crimes, shorten wait periods, or create new expedited processes. They can also make changes that make it more difficult to expunge one's record. Be sure to consult an attorney or the resources listed below in "How to File for Expungement in New Jersey" to see if any laws have changed that might make your record eligible or ineligible. Now, let's discuss expungement options in New Jersey.
If you were arrested or detained but not convicted, the court must order expungement of all related criminal records at the same time as the dismissal, acquittal, or discharge. A few exceptions to immediate expungement exist, including a six-month wait period that applies if the dismissal was based on a plea bargaining agreement or successful completion of a supervisory treatment or conditional dismissal program.
(N.J. Stat. § 2C:52-6 (2021).)
New Jersey law permits the expungement of many criminal convictions after successfully completing one's sentence and waiting the required period of time.
A person may request expungement of an indictable offense conviction (and up to three disorderly persons offense convictions) once five years have passed from “completion of the most recent conviction.” Completion of a conviction means release from incarceration, completion of probation or parole, or payment of all financial obligations, whichever is the latest.
Outstanding debt only. The court may waive the financial obligation requirement if the person meets all other requirements listed above but has outstanding court debt for reasons other than willful noncompliance. (The debt, however, does not go away. The court will seek collection of the debt through a civil judgment or another process.)
Early pathway expungement. A person may file a petition after only four years have passed since completion of a conviction. But the person must prove to the court that compelling circumstances warrant this earlier expungement remedy. (The law doesn’t spell out what constitutes a compelling circumstance.)
(N.J. Stat. § 2C:52-2 (2021).)
A person can apply to expunge up to five disorderly persons convictions, five petty disorderly persons convictions, or a combination of five total. The waiting period is five years from the "completion of the most recent conviction" (described above).
Similar to indictable convictions, the person might be eligible for:
(N.J. Stat. § 2C:52-3 (2021).)
New Jersey law authorizes automatic expungement of all criminal records where more than ten years have passed since completion of the conviction for indictable offense convictions, disorderly persons offense convictions, and petty disorderly persons offense convictions. (Until the automated system is up and running, a person must file a petition to use this remedy.)
(N.J. Stat. §§ 2C:52-5.3, - 5.4 (2021).)
Several other expungement provisions can be found in the law, including those for municipal ordinance violations, low-level marijuana convictions, juvenile delinquency records, drug court records, and others. Check out the resources below to see if your record might qualify under these expungement provisions.
The New Jersey Courts website offers a kit called How to Expunge Your Criminal and/or Juvenile Record. It contains important information about the filing process, which can now be done online for free.
You can also check out Legal Services of New Jersey’s website for its guide—Clearing Your Record: A Six-Step Guide to Expunging Criminal Records in New Jersey.
Cleaning up a criminal record can be complicated, and the law can change at any time. If you are not sure whether your record qualifies for expungement in New Jersey—or for advice about your personal situation—contact a qualified criminal law attorney. A good lawyer can help you understand the law and assist with any papers you might need to file.