TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Fred H. Madden to help provide the courts access to more accurate and up-to-date information when considering a request for the expungement of mental health records for the purpose of purchasing a firearm was approved today by the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee.
“When someone seeks to have their record expunged in order to purchase a firearm, the courts consider a range of information including the applicant’s mental health and criminal history. Currently, the courts may not have access to the most up-to-date information including pending charges or acts that may have been committed within the community,” said Senator Madden (D-Gloucester, Camden). “This measure will help ensure the court has access to the most accurate and current data available to use in making its determination.”
Current law requires licensed firearms retailers to conduct a background check of prospective firearms purchasers using the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Prospective purchasers may be found ineligible due to a mental health record in NICS. To have a mental health record removed from the system, a person is required to file an expungement application in the state that transmitted the record to NICS. When considering an expungement request, the court is required to hear evidence as to the circumstances of the petitioner’s commitment or determination, the petitioner’s mental heath record and criminal history, and the petitioner’s reputation in the community. If the court finds that the petitioner will not likely act in a manner dangerous to the public safety and that the grant of relief is not contrary to the public interest, the court is required to grant relief and expunge the record.
Since law enforcement officials may be aware of information which is not readily accessible to the court, such as pending charges, the purchaser’s criminal history, or any aberrant behavior within the community, the bill (S2360) authorizes law enforcement participation in this determination. Specifically, the bill would require a purchaser applying for expungement to serve notice to law enforcement officials in his or her current state of residence. Law enforcement officials would have the discretion as to whether to provide information to the court on the applicant’s criminal history or behavior for consideration during the expungement proceedings.
The Senate Law and Public Safety Committee approved the bill by a vote of 5-0. It next heads to the Senate for consideration.