TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senators Shirley K. Turner, Raymond J. Lesniak, and Nellie Pou that makes changes to eligibility requirements and procedures for expungement of criminal records was approved today by the full Senate.
The bill, S-2663, would change the current law by shortening the waiting period required before records of a criminal conviction can be expunged from 10 years to five years. In order to be eligible for a reduced waiting period, a person must not have been convicted of any prior or subsequent crime. The bill makes clear, however, that certain crimes such as murder, kidnapping, rape, and terrorism are not expungable. 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 may 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.
“Individuals who have paid their debt to society and are looking to improve their lives should be given a second chance to find employment that will help them become self-sufficient,” said Senator Turner (D-Hunterdon/Mercer). “The expungement process must be updated and revised to help people with minor offenses who have been rehabilitated and would like to clear their record get back on their feet by making access to employment easier. Far too often, these individuals are prisoners of their own criminal history because their record makes it difficult to find opportunities. This in turn leads them back to a life of crime. Without the proper financial support, there is a higher likelihood of recidivism and a greater chance that these individuals will not be able to be productive members of society. This issue can take a toll on our economy, burdening our taxpayers. We need to provide them with the opportunity for a real second chance.”
Furthermore, the legislation would reduce the waiting period for those seeking to expunge a disorderly persons or petty disorderly persons offense 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 the records of charges that have been dismissed without a conviction.
“Everyone deserves a chance and should be allowed to learn from their mistakes, especially if they have a clean record for five years,” said Senator Lesniak (D-Union). “Clearing records of former offenders who have turned their lives around not only helps these individuals to support themselves and their families but also our communities. We hope that by eliminating barriers, rehabilitated individuals looking to get a fresh start can contribute back to society.”
“For those seeking to start over, having a clean criminal record would help them through obstacles that would otherwise be difficult to overcome,” said Senator Pou (D-Bergen/Passaic). “With a criminal history, applying for opportunities may be difficult, whether it is for college or a job. Through this bill, individuals wanting to change their ways can get the opportunity necessary to obtain employment or an education.”
The bill was approved by a vote of 25-12. It now heads to the Assembly for a final vote.