TURNER-LESNIAK BILL TO SHORTEN THE PROCESS FOR EXPUNGEMENT OF CRIMINAL RECORDS ADVANCES

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TRENTON –Legislation sponsored by Senator Shirley K. Turner and Senator Raymond J. Lesniak that makes changes to eligibility requirements and procedures for expungement of criminal records was approved today by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The bill, S-2663, would change the current law by shortening the waiting period of expungement from 10 years to five years. In order to be eligible for a reduced waiting period, a person must have a clean prior criminal history and no convictions for subsequent crimes. The individual must also not have been convicted of a disorderly persons offense on more than two occasions. Those who have complied with payments of court-ordered fines, who were unable to pay due to compelling circumstances, or have not been convicted of a crime or offense in at least five years would also qualify for expungement. In addition, the Superior Court would be authorized to expunge arrest and conviction records for individuals who have successfully completed a drug court program and have not been convicted of any crime or offense during that time.

“When individuals make wrong choices and have paid their debt to society, they deserve the opportunity to find work and become productive to support themselves and their families,” said Senator Turner (D-Hunterdon/Mercer).”The expungement process needs to be easier and more accessible to help individuals  with minor offenses who have rehabilitated to clear their record.  A criminal history holds individuals as prisoners of their past, and consequently forces them back into a life of crime.  When they cannot find work and support their families  or when they recidivate, it burdens our taxpayers and takes a toll on our economy. We need provide individuals with the opportunity for a real second chance.”

Furthermore, the legislation would reduce the waiting period for those seeking to expunge a disorderly persons offense or petty conviction from five to three years if the person has not been convicted of these offenses previously in addition to having satisfactorily paid their fine or completed probation. Under the bill, the court would also automatically expunge individuals whose charges have been dismissed without a conviction.

“Denying individuals of opportunities because of their criminal history will only serve to hinder their progress,” said Senator Lesniak (D-Union). “While not all criminal records can be expunged, those with minor offenses who have met the requirements would only need to wait half the time to clear their record. With this bill, we could help to get people back on their feet sooner and prevent situations that could hurt their chances of getting an education or obtaining employment.”

Additionally, the bill makes clear that certain crimes such as murder, kidnapping, rape, and terrorism are not expungable. An individual’s record could be restored if the person has committed another crime during their time in a drug court program without any possibility of being eligible for an expungement in the future.

The bill was approved unanimously. It now heads to the Budget and Appropriations Committee.

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