Editor’s note: In 2019, New Jersey enacted a “clean slate” expungement authority that will eventually be automatic and is now available by petition. The same law directed the development of an e-filing system that is expected to eliminate many access barriers in the existing petition-based process. A detailed description of New Jersey’s expungement authorities, including its new “clean slate” law, can be found in the NJ profile from the Restoration of Rights Project.
The New Jersey Courts recently announced the statewide launch of its eCourts Expungement System developed in accordance with recent amendments in the law to help increase efficiency of the expungement process. The new system allows attorneys and pro se petitioners to create and file petitions for traditional, “clean slate,” and cannabis-related expungements. It introduces a number of efficiencies, including accessibility of state records databases, document creation for expungement petitions, and automatic service of applications on numerous parties.
Electronic filing is an important step as the state moves towards an automated expungement system, embracing the development of a “clean slate” model. Under the new law, the state will develop and implement an automated process to expunge conviction records after a period of ten years from the most recent conviction, payment of fine, satisfactory completion of probation or parole, or release from incarceration whichever is later. A task force will be established to examine, evaluate and make recommendations on its implementation.
But for now, the Expungement System should make the expungement process much easier for many who have access to computers and the internet. Previously, petitioners, even those who were filing through the JEDS system, were required to file several copies of their written or typed expungement applications and then serve copies on many other parties via certified mail, with return receipt requested, at a substantial cost. The court, however, will still accept paper expungement applications, important for those who may not have access to a computer or the internet.
Attorneys can access the system through eCourts, and pro se users can create an account through the New Jersey Court’s Self-Help Center (“Submit Expungement Petition Online” under “COVID-19 Self-Help Resources”).
Users can enter a municipal or superior court case number, and the expungement system will search and pull the petitioner’s court records from criminal, municipal and family court databases. Petitioners will have the ability to enter additional information not captured by the expungement system database; review and upload additional or supportive documents; and select or deselect which cases should be included on the proposed final order.
Once the petition is submitted and verified by the petitioner, the system will automatically create an order for hearing and serve the necessary parties with the documentation. It will also serve those parties if a final order of expungement is entered, and will provide a copy of the order to the petitioner.
The Expungement System does not provide eligibility advice or inform users as to whether any particular cases or any application is eligible for expungement. Users should consult with attorneys or advocates as to their eligibility prior to using the system or use other eligibility resources such as LSNJ’s CYRO eligibility interview. After filing, the prosecutor’s office will continue to be responsible for review of the petitioner’s application to confirm eligibility for expungement and will object if it determines that an application is ineligible.
Expungement System user guides are available on the Court’s website. LSNJ’s eligibility tools and resources are available at LSNJLAW’s Clearing Your Record Online.
Akil Roper is Chief Counsel for Reentry at Legal Services of New Jersey. Legal Services of New Jersey coordinates and supports the statewide system of legal services providing civil legal assistance to low-income individuals.