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 Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
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 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.
“People who have paid their debt to society and are willing to contribute to the community deserve the opportunity to find employment to support themselves and their families,” said Senator Turner (D-Hunterdon/Mercer). “The expungement process is in need of updates and revisions that would help make access to jobs easier for persons with minor offenses who have been rehabilitated and would like to clear their record. Individuals are often a prisoner of their own criminal history, making it difficult to find opportunities because of their past and leading them back to a life of crime. Without the proper financial support, there is a higher likelihood of recidivism and is 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 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.
“Everyone deserves a second 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). “When former offenders turn their lives around it is good for them, good for their families and good for society. We want to get more people out of the criminal justice system and support their efforts to hold jobs, support their families and contribute to society. This is a principle that is part of the American way of life.”
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.
“For those seeking to get a fresh start, having a clean criminal record would help them through obstacles that would otherwise be difficult to overcome,” said Senator Pou (D-Bergen/Passaic). “From applying to jobs to submitting college applications, these seemingly easy tasks can be difficult to obtain if you have a criminal history. Through this bill, individuals wanting to change their ways can get the opportunity necessary to improve their lives.”
The bill was approved by a vote of 9-3. It now heads to the full Senate for consideration.