What is an expungement?
Simply put, an expungement is a legal way to "clear your
Under New Jersey law (N.J.S. 2C:52-1), all records on file in
the criminal justice system that relate to a criminal prosecution
may be extracted and isolated.
Do the records just "disappear"? No. All the expunged
records are sent to a special facility for expunged records. The
records cannot be accessed for general law enforcement or civil
use. However, there are certain exceptional situations under which
the expunged records can be searched, retrieved, and used, but
this is rare and normally requires a court order or statutory
One way to look at it is, expunged records do not "disappear",
but they do "go away", and in most cases are never heard
Why do I need expungement?
A criminal conviction may affect on your legal rights, economic
opportunities, and social situation.
Many people discover the problems a criminal record creates when they are trying to move forward in their lives --applying for a job, license, or entrance to higher education. It is important to obtain an expungement of criminal records as soon as possible, well before one's past history will be reviewed or questioned. It may be too late once an important opportunity or right is lost.
Following are just a few of the situations where a criminal
record can affect your life.
- Jury duty
- Child custody rights
- Holding public office
- Credibility as a witness in court
- Firearms - Acquisition and Possession
- Economic: Bank Loans
- College Applications
- Professional Licenses
- Social stigma
- Military Service
- Place of Residence
- Clubs and civic organizations
Your expungement will help you avoid the legal, economic, and
social problems of a criminal record in two ways:
- You may legally say that you have never been arrested or
convicted of a crime.
- If anyone does a background check on you, courts and law
enforcement agencies will indicate that "no criminal record
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What kind records may be
Normally, records in any court, correctional facility, law enforcement
or criminal justice agency will be affected. Specifically, records
regarding a person's detection, apprehension, arrest, detention,
trial or the disposition of an offense within the criminal justice
system are selected for expungement. Other records, which may
exist in a court, such as property deeds, or civil lawsuits or
judgments, will not be affected or expunged.
In effect, one's criminal record of arrest and/or conviction
is erased and legally deemed not to have occurred.
Mental health records, which may affect one's ability to purchase
or possess firearms or obtain employment or licenses, may also
be expunged. The process is similar to the criminal history expungement.
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Who is eligible for an expungement?
Expungement eligibility is a highly technical area. One should
ask a qualified attorney regarding one's specific facts situation.
Generally speaking, a person may have a criminal offense expunged
if ten (10) years have passed since the completion of one's sentence.
Disorderly persons offenses and petty disorderly persons offenses
may be expunged after five (5) years. An arrest not resulting
in a conviction may generally be expunged without delay.
There are limits as to the number of matters which may be expunged,
and there are offenses which may not be expunged. There are also
other various statutory limitations regarding expungement which
are too technical to list.
The law of expungement and eligibility is so complicated and
contains so many exceptions, that only a qualified lawyer should
do the analysis of who is eligible and who is not.
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How do I get an "Expungement?"
An expungement involves petitioning the Superior Court of New
First, an investigation of the person's criminal history is
done to confirm eligibility for expungement. Second, a petition
is prepared and filed in Superior Court. Third, notifications
are sent to various law enforcement, prosecutor, and court offices.
After the court receives all of the necessary documents, a hearing
date is set for the expungement petition to be heard. In most
cases, it is not necessary for the petitioner (the person seeking
the expungement) to appear. However, if any of the law enforcement,
prosecutor, or court offices object to the expungement, then legal
briefs and oral argument at the hearing may be required.
The process normally takes about 3 months, but may take longer
depending on the legal issues involved or the particular court.
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Can an expungement help me
to lawfully possess firearms?
Because an expungement removes the criminal conviction or mental
health record, it may have the effect of removing the disqualification
placed upon a "convicted person" from purchasing or
possessing firearms under the firearm licensing law of N.J.S.
2C:58-3(c) and under the firearm possessory law of N.J.S. 2C:39-7.
A State expungement also removes the Federal disqualification
for convicted felons purchasing or possessing firearms. At one
time an individual needed a Federal relief from disabilities even
though they had a State expungement. Under the 1986 Gun Owners
Protection Act, this was changed so that the Federal Government
recognizes State expungement. This express recognition may be
found under the U.S.C.A. Title 18, 921(a)(20).
Expungement of an otherwise qualifying offense also removes
one from being subjected to the Lautenberg Domestic Violence Misdemeanor
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