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Cunningham, Ruiz, Sweeney Bill to Expand Expungement Eligibility Clears Senate

Trenton – Legislation sponsored by Senator Sandra Bolden Cunningham, Senator M. Teresa Ruiz and Senate President Steve Sweeney, which would revise procedures and eligibility for the expungement of criminal records, cleared the Senate today.

“As we begin to focus on criminal justice reform, both at the state level and nationally, we cannot forget about those who have already gone through the system,” said Senator Cunningham (D-Hudson). “If we are ever going to have a justice system truly based on rehabilitation, those who have been convicted must have a fair shot at life after having served their debt to society. Many Americans spend the rest of their lives fighting the stigma around their conviction, hindering their ability to find a place to live or get a job. Expanding the eligibility for expungement will allow more people to remove that stigma and break down the barriers preventing them from reaching their full potential.”

The bill, S-3205, would make various reforms to expungement eligibility and procedures, some focused on the treatment of various marijuana offenses, and others applicable to any expungement application. The bill would also create an expedited expungement process for certain marijuana or hashish related offenses.

“Whenever there is a conversation about the racial disparities among our state’s incarceration rates, we cannot forget that those convictions follow people for the rest of their lives,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex).  “The collateral consequences that come with a criminal conviction have been devastating communities of color, perpetuating the cycle of poverty and fracturing families for much too long. Expungement can begin to address the inequalities that exist in our criminal justice system. There is more work that needs to be done, but this legislation is a significant step in the right direction.”

The bill would also establish a “clean slate” expungement which would allow individuals not otherwise eligible for an expungement to file an application after ten years from the date they were released, completed probation or completed parole, whichever came last.

“Reforming our expungement program is a major step forward for all of New Jersey,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland). “By bringing those with criminal convictions out of the shadows and removing the stigma stinting their growth, the whole state will brighten. The more people able to find occupational and economic success, the better off we are as a state.”

The bill would reform the application process for all types of expungement to make it more accessible. Under the bill, those who were still working to pay off fines would be eligible and the collections would be transferred to the State Treasurer.

“The expungement legislation is a strong step in the right direction. While the bill does much to lessen the impact of minor CDS infractions, the most substantial provision of the bill is the “Cunningham Cleanser,” drafted by Senator Cunningham. The provision permits the formerly incarcerated to petition the court after ten years of law abiding life to expunge their criminal record,” said Governor McGreevey. “This simple yet profound act recognizes the importance of “second chances,” it enables persons to regain their dignity, their employability, their status in the community.

“For too long a criminal record has been a permanent bar against the ordinariness of working, buying a home, renting an apartment, attending school, and acquiring credit,” continued Governor McGreevey. “Senator Cunningham’s late husband Mayor Glen Cunningham initiated the “Second Chance” Program in Jersey City. This bill continues that biblical tradition of offering those of us who have made mistakes to be forgiven and be blessed with a “Second Chance.” I am profoundly grateful to Senators Cunningham, Ruiz, and Senate President Sweeney for their support and advocacy of this legislation.”

“Senator Cunningham’s expungement legislation sets a new course for New Jersey. This bill will enable the formally incarcerated to reclaim their lives. Particularly, the “Cunningham Cleanser” will provide for the complete expungement of a criminal record after a person lives his or her life for ten years as a law abiding citizen,” said Reverend Steffie Bartley, National Action Network New Jersey Chapter. “This legislation will help thousands return to gainful employment and productive lives. We have a debt of gratitude to Senators Cunningham and Ruiz and Senate President Sweeney.”

The bill was released from the Senate by a vote of 24-12.