Prior Convictions and Legalized Marijuana

As legalization of marijuana in New Jersey becomes a reality, the question of what will happen to previous marijuana convictions remains up in the air.  The governor has indicated that, as part of the legalization process, there will be a plan in place to expunge previous marijuana convictions.  However, it remains to be seen as to whether that plan will automatically expunge these marijuana convictions, or if it will force the citizens of New Jersey to navigate a complex, cumbersome expungement process.

Even minor criminal convictions can impact a person’s life and employment.  Many jobs require yearly background checks and others require that any criminal conviction be reported to the relevant licensee board.  Even something as minor as a single marijuana possession charge can impact a person’s ability to search for a job or to remain employed.  The expungement process is supposed to help with these problems.  A criminal expungement will seal all records of an individual’s conviction and arrest.  When asked about any expunged criminal history, a person can respond as if they were never arrested and never convicted.  However, the process to have these records expunged is cumbersome.

In order for a person to expunge their criminal history, they first need to draft a petition listing all of their previous contacts with law enforcement.  Even an arrest from twenty years ago that did not result in a conviction needs to be disclosed.  Then, after correctly drafting the petition and the relevant certifications, that information needs to be correctly filed with the court.  Once the court grants a hearing date, every government agency that has ever dealt with any of your arrests or convictions needs to be notified.  This includes every relevant police department, court, prosecutor’s office, or probation office.  During this time, each agency has the opportunity to object or respond.  If they do so, the individual seeking the expungement has to amend their petition and again re-notice every agency.

Once the hearing date arrives, the court will determine if an individual’s criminal history is eligible for expungement.  Multiple crimes are not eligible.  Similarly, certain combinations of Indictable offenses and Disorderly Persons offenses are not eligible to be expunged.  If you properly noticed each agency, filed the correct petition and certifications, and have the correct criminal history, the court may then order that your record be expunged.  However, your record is not sealed based on that court order.  It is up to the individual getting their record expunged to file that order with the correct government agencies.  Once that order is correctly filed, the process is complete.

What has not been addressed by either the governor or the legislature is how an expungement of a Conditional Discharge may be affected by this new bill.  A Conditional Discharge is an alternative disposition program that results in the dismissal of the charge at the end of a term of probation.  However, this program can only be entered once during an individual’s life.  It is an open question as to whether there will be a component in the new expungement bill that will allow for individuals to renter a similar program if a Conditional Discharge was used for the dismissal of a marijuana charge,

The expungement process is cumbersome. The best way to ensure that your record is correctly expunged is to hire legal counsel. The attorneys at Rosenberg | Perry & Associates can help anyone looking to expunge their criminal history through his process. Contact us for a free consultation to discuss your situation.