Governor Murphy Strengthens Expungement Reforms and Provides for Pathway to Automatic Expungement
TRENTON – Governor Phil Murphy today conditionally vetoed Senate Bill No. 3205, which would institute several major reforms to the State’s expungement law and allow individuals convicted of certain offenses to petition a court to remove information about those offenses from their criminal records. As described in more detail below, the Governor’s recommendations require the creation of a system for automatic expungements for those with clean records for at least ten years, and allow for judicial sealing of low-level marijuana offenses, ensuring that individuals cannot have those convictions used against them in the future.
“I applaud the sponsors’ commitment to social justice, and their efforts to correct historic wrongs inflicted on our communities by a criminal justice system that has at times unfairly, and harshly punished individuals,” said Governor Murphy. “Providing relief for those who have served their time, and lifting the constraints placed on them from finding meaningful work, and providing for their families following a conviction and time served is a priority that I share with legislative leaders and advocates.”
“However, I believe this bill can go further for the cause of justice, and I am hopeful that we can move forward together with a bill that provides a path to automatic expungement and allows for relief for those convicted for those convicted of low-level marijuana offenses,” Governor Murphy continued. “I will continue to work with the Legislature build a more complete system of expungements, so that more New Jerseyans are given a second chance and can better reintegrate into our society.”
Clean Slate Expungement System
The Governor’s changes would require the State to implement an “automated clean slate expungement system” – an automatic system of expungements for individuals convicted of multiple crimes who have had a clean record for at least ten years, obviating the need for an attorney or the need to engage in a paperwork heavy administrative process. In order to meet the bill’s implementation requirement, the Governor’s changes establish a task force to study the technological, fiscal, resource and practical issues and challenges involved in developing such a system, and to provide recommendations on how to create the system.
As an interim measure to help those who have had clean records for at least a decade, the Governor’s changes recommend that a clean slate petition process be available for the limited period between the bill’s effective date and the implementation of an automated clean slate expungement system. The bill calls for a $15 million supplemental appropriation to the Department of Law and Public Safety to support its processing of clean slate expungement petitions.
Marijuana and Hashish Convictions
As passed, S3205 establishes an expedited expungement process for certain minor marijuana, hashish, and paraphernalia convictions. While laudable for its social justice aims, such a process may have the unintended and unfair effect of delaying the review of standard expungement petitions. The Governor’s changes therefore suggest having the court immediately seal an individual’s record upon the disposition of charges for possession or distribution of a small amount of marijuana or hashish or related drug paraphernalia. Further, the Governor’s change would ensure that the sealed marijuana or hashish convictions cannot not be used for sentencing purposes in any other case. This process provides relief while avoiding delays.
Changes to Existing Expungement Procedures
The Governor’s changes would require the State to establish an electronic expungement filing system that would streamline expungement processing, eliminate filing fees to petition for an expungement, and eliminate the current expensive requirement on individuals to send notices of the petition to various law enforcement agencies. These changes would lift the financial and time-consuming burden on individuals seeking relief.
The Governor’s changes also recommend incorporating amendments suggested by the Administrative Office of the Courts, which address technical and procedural issues identified by the Judicial Branch, which is responsible for conducting the expungement petition filing and hearing process. The Governor’s changes suggest modifications from the Department of Treasury that are designed to facilitate the collection of fines in response to changes in the bill that shift responsibility from the courts to the Department.
Advocates expressed their support for the Governor’s conditional veto.
“The NAACP has been involved in the cannabis conversation solely because of its connection to civil rights,” said Richard T. Smith, President of the NAACP New Jersey State Chapter.“We believe that the wrongs committed by the war on drugs and its agents can not begin to be repaired until people can have their lives back from senseless low-level marijuana offenses. We are glad to see the Governor’s office conditionally veto this bill in hopes of making it stronger and the language clearer. The NAACP looks forward to working with the Governor’s office to ensure that everyone will have open access to free and expedited expungement.”
“This is a major step towards the restoration of thousands of lives,” said Reverend Charles Boyer. “Governor Murphy continues to show his commitment to unravel a punitive system disproportionately inflicted upon people of color. This is robust; this is a commitment; this is real.”
“On behalf of the Latino Acton Network we celebrate not only this legislation but also Governor Murphy’s conditional veto that adds automatic expungement for individuals who have had stayed crime and conviction free for ten years or more,” said Cuqui Rivera, Criminal Justice Reform Chair at the Latino Action Network. “The stigma surrounding a criminal record is debilitating in so many aspects of one’s journey that to rebuild their lives after time served is virtually beyond possible. As advocates in criminal justice reform for the last 2 decades, we have worked long and hard on this very legislation. Thank you to ALL in the legislature, the administration and the advocate community who have worked so hard to realize this victory. It takes the Village.
“Governor Murphy’s conditional veto puts our state on the path to ensure that New Jerseyans burdened with criminal convictions – disproportionately people of color – will no longer need to navigate an onerous legal system to obtain the well-documented benefits of expungement,” said Amol Sinha, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. “Instead, they will be able to expunge their records as soon as they become eligible. In the coming months, the ACLU-NJ will work hard to guarantee that the task force created by the CV provides recommendations, and that the Legislature takes up legislation, to create a fairer and more efficient system for expungements.”
Read the conditional veto here.