Unfortunately, youthful indiscretions and isolated mistakes that we make as adults can carry unanticipated consequences which significantly limit our future opportunities. That is especially true if these errors in judgment result in an arrest or conviction for a criminal offense or violation of a municipal ordinance. If you find yourself in this type of a situation you may be in need of an expungement.

Courts and law enforcement authorities generate a myriad of documents and records relating to arrests and convictions. These materials can be maintained indefinitely on paper and in computer form, such as the National Crime Information Center Database. As a result, public access to this sensitive information often prevents individuals from obtaining employment, coaching youth sports teams and being eligible to receive or maintain a variety of professional licenses.

Fortunately, our legislature has provided a mechanism to individuals who have had limited contact with the criminal justice system to “clean” their record. That mechanism is called an expungement.

What is an expungement?

An expungement is a legal proceeding that extracts and isolates the record of an arrest or conviction from government files and databases. It is specifically defined by statute as “The extraction and isolation of all records on file with any court, detention or correctional facility, law enforcement or criminal justice agency concerning a person’s detection, apprehension, arrest, detention, trial or disposition of an offense within the criminal justice system.”

What is the effect of an expungement?

If an expungement is granted, the associated arrests, convictions and any proceedings related thereto are treated as if they never occurred. Consequently, with very few exceptions, a person who receives an expungement can lawfully state, in connection with employment related questions, forms and applications, that he/she has never been arrested or convicted of the expunged offense.

What specific records can be expunged?

A: Expunged records include complaints, warrants, arrests, commitments, processing records, fingerprints, photographs, index cards, “rap sheets” and judicial docket records.

Who is eligible for an expungement?

Determining whether someone is eligible for an expungement sometimes involves a complex legal analysis which evaluates the number and timing of your convictions, as well as whether they involve certain serious offenses. Generally speaking, however, any person who has been arrested and/or convicted of a crime, disorderly persons offense or municipal ordinance violation may be eligible for an expungement.

When do I become eligible for an expungement?

Any arrest that did not result in a conviction is subject to expungement at any time following the resolution of the charge. However, if an arrest results in a conviction, there is typically a waiting period before a person can apply for an expungement. The waiting periods vary between two, five or ten years (depending on the seriousness of the offense) from the date your sentence has been completed.

How long does the expungement process take?

The expungement process normally takes three to six months to complete after the petition is filed with the court.

Robert E. Lytle, Esq., formerly an Assistant Mercer County Prosecutor, is an associate with Szaferman, Lakind, Blumstein, Blader & Lehmann, P.C., 101 Grovers Mill Road, Lawrenceville, NJ 08648. He can be reached at 609-275-0400 or rlytle@szaferman.com.

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