Many are struggling to make ends meet in the current U.S. job market, and trying to find a job, obtain housing or even vote becomes even more difficult when the applicant has a criminal record. Fortunately, there are more options in New Jersey than ever before that can allow a job applicant with a criminal past to be able to go on with his life and contribute in a positive way to society.

Individuals who have become trapped in the criminal justice system should be aware that they may be able to have their record cleared, depending on the severity of the crime and the length of time since the conviction. Because the laws on a person’s eligibility for this process are quite complex, getting informed advice is an important first step.

What is expungement?

Expungement is a process that allows people who have been convicted of certain crimes to be able to have their criminal record removed from public view. An individual’s eligibility for expungement depends on several factors, which include:

  • How long since the offense was committed
  • How severe the crime
  • If there was a conviction
  • The overall conviction record
  • State law

State law also determines the procedure for the access or expungement of criminal records. In New Jersey, an applicant may be eligible if he was arrested but not charged with a crime, was not convicted for more serious crimes like robbery, murder, rape, arson or felony drug possession, and does not have any pending cases.

An individual who has a clean record as an adult but who committed a crime as a juvenile may also be eligible for expungement. An applicant must satisfy a waiting period determined by law before becoming eligible for expungement.

How progressive are New Jersey’s “clean slate” laws?

As part of his Second Chance Agenda, Governor Phil Murphy signed two new laws in December of 2019 that not only reform the expungement process, but also restore the voting rights of New Jersey residents who are on parole or probation.

S4154 streamlines the petition process for those who have not committed a crime in ten years or committed more serious crimes. Now, low-level marijuana convictions are sealed after disposition, preventing them from being used against individuals in the future. In addition, a new e-filing system now eliminates filing fees.

These measures have put New Jersey at the forefront of progressive measures that help restore fairness to the criminal justice system and give individuals a second chance to re-enter society with a clean slate.