New law seals marijuana convictions in NJ, expands expungement
NEWARK – New Jersey will make it easier for people to wipe clean their criminal records through a series of expungement reforms signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Phil Murphy.
The new law makes residents with multiple convictions eligible to seek a “clean slate” expungement if they haven’t committed an offense in 10 years and weren’t convicted of the most serious crimes. It also creates a task force that will automate the clean slate expungement system.
The law also requires that low-level marijuana convictions are sealed upon the disposition of a case, preventing those convictions from being used against those individuals in the future. It also eliminates filing fees for expungement as part of a new e-filing system, for which the law provides $15 million.
Gov. Phil Murphy, who also signed a law Wednesday allowing people to vote while on parole or probation, called it “a historic day” for tens of thousands of residents who will be allowed to “reclaim their role as equal members of our society.”
“We are allowing residents with low-level drug and nonviolent offenses to have their record expeditiously expunged, including online … and without application fees so they can have a meaningful chance at a good job, an education and a strong future,” Murphy said.
“I am proud that we are giving New Jersey one of the most progressive expungement laws in the nation, allowing more people to have the opportunity to fully participate in our society, in our economy,” said Murphy.
The expungement law was approved Monday in the Legislature, by votes of 23-15 in the Senate and 48-21-1 in the Assembly.
An earlier version had been passed in June, then conditionally vetoed by Murphy, who wanted it changed to eventually automate the clean-slate expungement and to seal charges for possession or selling small amounts of marijuana or hashish, similar to how juvenile records are sealed.
Sen. Sandra Cunningham, D-Hudson, said the law is "just about giving a second chance.”
“We put so much work into this legislation. I think we worked on part of it for almost 10 years. And no matter what else we did, we came back to we have to do something to give people a second chance,” said Cunningham, her voice cracking with emotion.
“There’s a great power in second chances,” said Daamin Durden, field director for the Newark Community Street Team. “But there are often not enough of them.”
The section of the law creating the clean-slate task force takes effect immediately, as do the portions that eliminate expungement filing fees and provide $15 million to the program. The rest of the law will take effect June 15.
Democratic lawmakers and activists who joined Murphy for the bill-signing ceremony at the Newark One-Stop Career Center said additional criminal-justice reforms are needed, and the governor seemed open to the idea.
“I call this a second-chance agenda for a reason. We are a state that believes in second chances. We are a state that’s stronger when we allow people to move forward and to fully use their God-given talents to their fullest potential. Who hasn’t made a mistake, for crying out loud?” Murphy said.
“Moreover, it is a second chance for New Jersey to do the right thing,” he said. “We have a lot of history to make up for and, yes, we still have much more to do.”