New law will help many in New Jersey clear nonviolent criminal record
A new expungement law that would clear an individual's criminal record of certain nonviolent offenses takes effect Monday, and legal experts expect many in the state to take advantage of it.
Criminal and arrest records often hinder people from finding new employment or housing.
Akil Roper, chief counsel for reentry for the nonprofit Legal Services of New Jersey, says they expect a flood of inquiries about the law. People who stand to benefit the most are those who have successfully completed drug court, or court-ordered rehabilitation, he said.
"I think that the atmosphere has changed a bit in New Jersey, and we are taking a view now that individuals who suffer from drug addiction, and as a result were subject to the criminal justice system, they should not be incarcerated," he said. "Or, if they are incarcerated, they should have paths available to them to expunge their records and re-enter society during their rehabilitation."
Also, people with a conviction of a serious, indictable crime, and up to two less-serious, disorderly persons convictions would be eligible to have those criminal records expunged.
"Previously, if you had an indictable conviction, it prevented you from expunging disorderly persons convictions off of your record," he said. He calls it a "minor point, but not minor to those who have an indictable conviction and up to two disorderly persons convictions."
Also, the new law will allow those whose cases were dismissed without a finding of guilt to expunge the records of that arrest.
"This is important because the fact is overlooked that an arrest alone could create a substantial barrier for an employment opportunity or a housing opportunity," he said.
Legal Services of New Jersey has created a special online program to help with this, called "Clearing Your Record Online." The program provides what Legal Services calls a "step-by-step toolkit" to make it easier to navigate through the new expungement law.
Joe Cutter is the afternoon news anchor on New Jersey 101.5.