New Jersey's expungement law was revised in April of 2016 to allow for the expungement of the entire criminal record for those individuals who successfully completed Drug Court in New Jersey. This guide provides a brief overview of this new law.
What is Drug Court?
Several counties in New Jersey have implemented a Drug Court program. In Drug Court, the State and criminal defense attorneys work together to help non-violent drug offenders, who are often addicts, by rehabilitating them, as opposed to incarcerating them or imposing other harsh sentences. The theory is that, without appropriate treatment, these individuals are bound to come into contact with the criminal justice system again. Thus, rather than incarcerating this individuals, which does little to rehabilitate them (and often, in fact, results in making their drug addiction worse), the Drug Court program seeks to attack the problem at its source by offering counseling and drug and alcohol rehabilitation services to these individuals, in lieu of incarceration, in the hopes that these individuals will recover and not have any further contact with the criminal justice system.
New Jersey's law governing drug court is codified at N.J.S.A. 2C:35-14. Drug Court usually requires the offender to be: (1) employed; and (2) under an intense period of supervised probation, which requires random drug testing and court appearances. The court can also impose any counseling or drug rehabilitation programs deemed beneficial.
New Drug Court Expungement Law
Often times, individuals enrolling in New Jersey's Drug Court program have extensive criminal backgrounds that were, for the most part, due to their drug or alcohol addictions. These convictions could include not only drug convictions, but also convictions for other offenses such as theft, robbery, assault, burglary, etc. Prior to April of 2016, however, most drug court graduates were barred from being eligible to expunge their criminal records after completion of the drug court program, due to the nature of New Jersey's expungement law, which places limits of the amount and type of offenses that are eligible for expungement.
As of April 18, 2016, however, expungement law in New Jersey changed drastically for those individuals who have successfully completed Drug Court. According to N.J.S.A. 2C:35-14(m), those individuals who successfully complete drug court are eligible for expungement of all prior arrests, detentions, convictions, and/or proceedings for any criminal offense under Title 2C. To be eligible for this broad expungement relief, the individual must meet the following three requirements:
1.They must have satisfactorily completed Drug Court;
2.They must not have been convicted of any crimes, disorderly person, or petty disorderly persons offenses during their term of Drug Court; and
3.They must not have been convicted of an offense that is barred from expungement pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2(b) (many of which are violent crimes).
Drug Court Expungement Procedure
The procedure for applying for a Drug Court expungement pursuant to this section will vary depending on whether you completed Drug Court before or after the law's effective date of April 18, 2016. For those who successfully complete Drug Court after that date, the expungement process is somewhat automatic. After being discharged from Drug Court, the court will provide you with a copy of a Drug Court expungement order, which you must promptly distribute to the appropriate agencies who have control and custody of the records specified in the order.
If you have completed drug court and been granted an expungement pursuant to this section, then it is imperative that you stay out of trouble. This is because if you are subsequently convicted of a crime (or felony) following discharge, then the full record of arrests and convictions may be restored to public access and you will be forever barred from obtaining an expungement in the future.
For those individuals who graduated from Drug Court prior to April 18, 2016, you may apply for relief pursuant to this section by filing an expungement petition in the Superior Court in the county where you completed drug court. So long as you meet the requirements listed above, and you have not been convicted of any crime (felony) or other offense since the date of discharge from Drug Court, then you are likewise eligible for expungement of all prior arrests, detentions, convictions, and/or proceedings for any criminal offense under Title 2C pursuant to this section.
Additional resources provided by the author
Please see the New Jersey Drug Court expungement statute at N.J.S.A. 2C:35-14 (link below).
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