Everyone makes mistakes. That's what the New Jersey Supreme Court recognized earlier this month when it clarified New Jersey's rules for expunging someone's criminal record. Expunging, in clearer terms, means to erase a criminal conviction from a person's record. When seeking an expungement, the offender must prove to the court that it would be in the public's best interest for there to be no evidence of the previous criminal charge on the person's record. For example, it may be in the public interest to erase the record of someone who can and wants to contribute to society or be gainfully employed but is held back because of his or her criminal record.
The ruling arose from the appeal of an Atlantic City man who pleaded guilty in 2001 to distributing Ecstasy at a nightclub. The man, who was 23 at the time, sold the drug to undercover officers. His application had been rejected for several activities as a result of his criminal record. He was not allowed to teach a boating safety class, coach high school wrestling or volunteer as a Big Brother.
After pleading guilty to the crime, the man got a college degree, was active in community service and was also employed. He committed no more crimes. In seeking an expungement, he submitted 21 letters of support to the court. In denying the expungement, the trial court found that the man met most of the criteria, but did not prove that an expungement would be in the public interest due to the serious nature of the crime.
On appeal, the New Jersey Supreme Court said that, in this particular case, the balancing of all the factors supported the offender's plea for expungement. The ruling demonstrates that, even when the defense of a criminal charge is not totally successful at the time the offense is committed, a one-time offender who made a mistake in judgment does not have to bear the brunt of that mistake for the rest of his or her life. After becoming a productive member of society, a clean record may still be a possibility.
Source: The Star-Ledger, "N.J. Supreme Court sets specific rules for judges erasing criminal records," MaryAnn Spoto, July 10, 2012