NJ Court Makes It Easier to Expunge Drug Offenses

A recent ruling by the NJ Supreme Court renders anyone who successfully completes drug court in New Jersey potentially eligible for an immediate expungement of their minor criminal offenses. The decision clarifies a 2016 law that offers a clean slate to non-violent former drug addicts who show a desire and effort to improve their lives.

Two years ago, N.J.S.2C:35-14 was amended to offer a presumptive automatic expungement to those who complete the drug-court program. Those who complete the program could have their entire criminal record hidden from public view provided it does not include serious violent offenses, such as murder or rape, or first- or second-degree drug crimes.

However, prosecutors contested the requests for expungement of three drug-court graduates who applied shortly after the law was enacted. They argued that erasing the applicant’s criminal history was not in the “public interest.”

New Jersey’s appellate division ruled that anyone convicted of a third- or fourth-degree drug offense (except for marijuana possession) would have to prove that an expungement was “in the public interest.” This would have required drug court graduates to hunt down and pay to obtain copies of old transcripts and sentencing documents in order to prove that expungement was in the public interest. In a unanimous opinion released Tuesday, Jan. 8, the Supreme Court overturned that decision and ruled that those who complete drug court “are entitled to a presumption that expungement of those offenses is consistent with the public interest.”

“For a period of up to five years, a specialized team of judges, treatment providers, probation officers, substance abuse evaluators, public defenders, prosecutors, and court staff closely track each defendant’s behavior,” the decision reads. “Throughout that time, each defendant’s achievements are monitored with care, and missteps often result in court appearances. Judges and other members of the drug court team thus become quite familiar with each participant and have a basis to assess each defendant’s ‘character and conduct since conviction.’ N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2(c)(3).”

The ruling does not guarantee that an expungement will be granted; it simply eliminates one of the more cumbersome aspects of the expungement application process. Prosecutors may present evidence in an effort to prevent an erasure of an applicant’s record.

The Supreme Court cited statistics showing the positive impact of drug courts:

  • More than 5,400 individuals have successfully completed drug court since the program’s inception in 2002.
  • 90% of participants are employed upon graduate.
  • Two-thirds have a driver’s license at graduation.
  • Participants who graduate have had clean drug tests for one year.

Despite this, only 750 graduates of drug court have had their criminal records expunged. Clearing one’s criminal history can make a big difference in one’s ability to successfully move on and improve one’s life.

If you or someone you love has completed drug court and would like to petition for an expungement of their criminal record, contact an attorney right away for help. The lawyers of the Rosenblum Law are skilled expungement attorneys with experience helping people in such situations. Email Rosenblum Law or call 888-815-3649 today for a free consultation about your case.

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