On Thursday, Dec. 19, NJ Gov. Phil Murphy signed two major pieces of legislation to reform New Jersey’s criminal justice system and give those convicted of past offenses an opportunity to start over. The bills help establish New Jersey’s expungement process as one of the most progressive in the nation. It also helps give individuals who have made mistakes in the past the opportunity to fully participate in society.
S4154 creates a petition process for a “clean slate” expungement. NJ residents who have not committed an offense in 10 years and who have not been convicted of certain serious crimes can have their entire criminal record cleared. The law specifically states that there is no limit to the number of offenses, including both disorderly persons offenses and indictable offenses, which can be cleared through the clean slate process. However, those crimes which currently render one ineligible for a basic expungement, including homicide, robbery, aggravated sexual assault and many others will also render one ineligible for a clean slate.
The bill also requires the NJ officials to develop a process for automatically clearing eligible records. This process will be developed by a task force, which must first study the technological, fiscal, and practical challenges associated with such a system.
Despite state lawmakers struggling with how and when to legalize marijuana, S4154 moves forward with an effort to prevent current and past marijuana offenses from becoming an obstacle to one’s future. The new law requires that low-level marijuana convictions be sealed immediately upon the disposition of a case.
Lastly, the bill makes a handful of changes to the existing expungement procedures. Firstly, for those whose records contain only disorderly persons offenses (not indictable offenses/felonies), the maximum number of offenses that can be cleared increases from 4 to 5. Secondly, it requires the creation of an e-filing system that would allow individuals to apply for expungement on the web. Electronically filed petitions would not require a filing fee.
Another bill, A5823, restores voting rights to New Jersey residents on probation or parole, a category that currently comprises over 80,000 individuals. NJ will join 16 other states, including Indiana, Montana, and Utah, which currently allow individuals on probations or parole to vote. This bill will take effect on March 18, 2020.
“Our Administration is deeply committed to transforming our criminal justice system, and today we are taking a historic step to give residents impacted by that system a second chance,” said Gov. Murphy in a statement. “I am proud to sign one of the most progressive expungement laws in the nation, which will allow more New Jerseyans the opportunity to fully engage in our society. I am also proud to enact legislation that will restore voting rights to over 80,000 residents on probation or parole, allowing them to fully participate in our democracy.”