In New Jersey, a person with a criminal record may be able to get their record expunged or sealed. The state's expungement laws are fairly broad, but they can get complicated.
Expungement represents a process that hides or seals criminal records (maintained by the government) from public view. 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. On most background checks, a person can legally deny that expunged records exist. (N.J. Stat. § 2C:52-27 (2023).)
Expungement doesn't wipe the slate completely clean. 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.
New Jersey law offers multiple avenues for expunging records. Several of these record-clearing options are based on the type of offense, such as drug offenses, marijuana and hashish-related offenses, and offenses committed by juveniles. Other expungement options apply based on how the case was resolved (such as an acquittal or conditional dismissal). New Jersey also provides regular (or traditional) and automatic expungement of convictions for indictable offenses, disorderly persons offenses, and petty disorderly persons offenses. Each type of expungement comes with specific eligibility requirements.
Eligibility for expungement depends primarily on the type of record the person wants to be expunged. For cases not ending in a conviction, a person may need to complete a waiting period. A set of more stringent requirements apply when a person seeks to expunge a conviction. Generally speaking, the person:
Also, New Jersey has decided that convictions for certain offenses never qualify for expungement. These "ineligible offenses" include (among other crimes) 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. (N.J. Stat. § 2C:52-2 (2023).)
A person may qualify for expungement of eligible convictions through one or more of the following options.
Regular (traditional) expungement is primarily based on the offense level rather than the type of offense. For eligible crimes, a person can ask the court to expunge (in their lifetime):
The person must wait five years after "completion of the most recent conviction" before applying. Completion of a conviction means release from any incarceration, completion of probation or parole, and payment of all financial obligations (fines, restitution, and fees). Subsequent convictions may disqualify the person from expungement depending on what records they seek to expunge.
In some instances, the above requirements may be waived by the court. Three examples are discussed below.
Crime spree. The limitation on the number of convictions that can be expunged does not apply if the offenses were committed as part of a crime spree (closely related in time and circumstances).
Waiver of court fees requirement. If the person meets all other requirements listed above but has outstanding court debt for reasons other than willful noncompliance, the court may waive the financial obligation requirement and grant the expungement. (The debt, however, does not go away. The court will seek collection of the debt through a civil judgment or another process.)
Early pathway for compelling reasons. If compelling reasons exist, a person may file an expungement petition before the five-year mark. For expungement including an indictable crime, the person may apply after only four years have passed. The time period is three years for disorderly persons and petty disorderly persons offenses. (The law doesn't spell out what constitutes a compelling circumstance.)
(N.J. Stat. §§ 2C:52-2, 2C:52-3 (2023).)
New Jersey law authorizes automatic expungement of all eligible criminal records where more than 10 years have passed since the completion of the conviction for indictable offenses, disorderly persons offenses, and petty disorderly persons offenses. Similar to regular expungement, outstanding court debt doesn't disqualify a person as long as nonpayment wasn't willful. There are no limitations on the number of eligible convictions that can be expunged under this section. (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, 2C:52-5.4 (2023).)
Marijuana and hashish-related convictions may qualify for automatic, expedited, or regular expungement.
Automatic. As part of New Jersey's effort to legalize and decriminalize certain marijuana and hashish-related offenses, the law required the courts to automatically expunge certain lower-level offenses. Check the New Jersey Courts' website to determine if your record qualified for automatic expungement.
Expedited. A few marijuana and hashish convictions qualify for immediate expungement after a person completes their sentence. These include low-level distribution offenses, distribution offenses in a school or drug-free zone, and using or intending to use drug paraphernalia with a marijuana or hashish violation.
Regular. A person can seek regular expungement of marijuana and hashish convictions where the total quantity sold, distributed, or possessed with intent to sell was less than one ounce of marijuana or five grams of hashish. (See requirements described above.)
(N.J. Stat. §§ 2C:52-2, 2C:52-5.1 (2023).)
A person who successfully completes drug court can get their record expunged if they had no convictions during or after their probation. The court must expunge the record unless it decides that it's in the public's interest to have the record available. Expungement can also be denied if the record includes an ineligible offense. (N.J. Stat. § 2C:35-14(m) (2023).)
Individuals who were arrested but not convicted or had their case dismissed can get related arrest, booking, and charging records expunged under the following circumstances.
No conviction. If a person was arrested or detained but not convicted, the court must order the expungement of all related criminal records at the same time as the dismissal, acquittal, or discharge. When a dismissal resulted from a plea deal, the dismissal can't be expunged until the conviction is expunged.
Successful completion of diversion. A person must wait six months for expungement if the dismissal was based on the successful completion of a pretrial intervention program, conditional discharge or dismissal, or a diversion program. (Veterans diversion, however, qualifies for immediate expungement).
There's no limit on the number of expungements for criminal records not resulting in convictions. (N.J. Stat. § 2C:52-6 (2023).)
When seeking to expunge a conviction, a person will often need to file a petition with the court asking for the expungement. Judges may automatically expunge certain non-conviction records immediately after dismissing a case or upon a defendant's successful completion of a diversion program (meaning no petition would be needed).
For petition-based requests, the New Jersey Courts website offers forms, videos, and instructions on how to request an expungement. The court also has a free electronic filing system for expungements, called eCourts Expungement System.
Another great source of information is Legal Services of New Jersey. Check out the website for its guide—Clearing Your Record: A Six-Step Guide to Expunging Criminal Records in New Jersey—along with additional material for clearing one's record.
Both the Courts and Legal Services of New Jersey provide information on other types of expungement provisions offered under New Jersey law, such as expunging municipal ordinance violations, juvenile delinquency records, drug court records, identity theft victim records, and others.
Cleaning up a criminal record can be complicated, and the requirements can and do change. If you're not sure whether your record qualifies for expungement in New Jersey—or for advice about your personal situation—contact a qualified criminal law attorney. You may also qualify for free legal services through Legal Services of New Jersey.