The consequences of being convicted of a drug-related offense extend beyond the fines and potential incarceration. In most cases, a person who is convicted of a drug crime must disclose that fact on employment applications, which can make finding a decent job much more challenging. You might also have to disclose your conviction on home rental applications and in other situations.
One way to relieve some of the burden of living with a drug conviction is to apply for expungement, which is a legal process for erasing the records of a criminal event from public view.
N.J.S.A. 2C:35–14(m), also known as the “Drug Court expungement statute,” governs when the Superior Court can order the expungement of a person’s criminal records after he or she has successfully satisfied his or her sentence, for example, by completing a substance abuse treatment program ordered by the court.
The Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division recently evaluated whether graduates of Drug Court who were convicted of certain third- and fourth-degree drug crimes are required to make a “public interest” showing in order to get their records expunged, as mandated in N.J.S.A. 2C:52–2(c)(3). The provision specifies that, when evaluating the public interest requirement, the court must consider the petitioner’s character and conduct since the conviction as well as the nature of the offense.
When the case was in trial court, the State contended that, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:52–2(c)(3), the criminal record of a person who has been convicted of certain third- or fourth-degree drug offenses is barred from expungement unless the court finds that the expungement is consistent with public interest. The three applicants contended that convictions for said crimes are not an absolute bar to expungement under N.J.S.A. 2C:52–2(c), so a public interest finding is not necessary for a Drug Court expungement.
Although all three applicants had multiple prior convictions for drug offenses, their interpretation was adopted by the trial court. Their convictions and prior arrests that were not followed by convictions were therefore expunged. The State then appealed the ruling.
The Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division found that the trial court erred in determining that the State bore the burden of proving that the expungement would be inconsistent with public interest. The Appellate Division also found that the trial court’s decision that N.J.S.A. 2C:52–2(c) does not apply constituted abuse of discretion.
The Appellate Division concluded that trial courts may grant an expungement to graduates of Drug Court who have a third- or fourth-degree conviction for sale, distribution, or possession with intent to sell CDS, other than the hashish- and marijuana -related crimes specified in N.J.S.A. 2C:52–2(c), only if the applicant has made the required public interest showing.
The Appellate Division therefore vacated the expungement of the applicants’ criminal records because the public interest test had not been appropriately applied.
Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Elizabeth to Discuss Your Case
If you are facing charges for a drug-related crime, contact my office today to discuss your defense options. I will investigate your arrest to look for any procedural errors made by police that could work in your favor. Depending on the facts of your case and your criminal history, there may be a defense that leads to reduced charges or penalties, or the outright dismissal of your case.
If you are interested in getting your criminal record expunged, I can help you with that, as well.
Call 973-453-2009 to schedule a consultation with an Elizabeth drug attorney at the Law Office of Eric M. Mark.