A new law that will take effect in New Jersey in several months will reduce the waiting periods for the expungement of criminal records, which is the process by which a person may have records of arrests, charges, and convictions removed from the public record. Unfortunately, New Jersey law does not allow expungement in driving while intoxicated (DWI) cases. Post-conviction relief (PCR) is the only means of removing a DWI case from one’s driving record. The new law is still good news for New Jersey, and it should be of interest to people charged with a criminal offense in connection with a DWI.
New Jersey law defines “expungement” as “the extraction and isolation of all records on file” with courts, law enforcement agencies, jails, and prisons regarding arrests, trials, convictions, and other dispositions. Records to be expunged include warrants, jail rosters, fingerprints, mugshots, and court dockets. Certain serious criminal offenses are excluded from eligibility for expungement, such as murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery, arson, and conspiracy to commit any of the listed offenses. For any other criminal offense, a person may petition for expungement after a specified period of time has elapsed, provided they have no other criminal convictions and meet the statute’s other requirements. For disorderly persons offenses and petty disorderly persons offenses, the waiting period before eligibility for expungement is shorter than for criminal offenses.
Motor vehicle offenses, which include DWI, are expressly excluded from eligibility for expungement. The only method allowed by New Jersey law for removing a DWI from a driving record is the PCR process, by which a person files a petition in the municipal court that handled the DWI case. Rule 7:10-2(c) of the New Jersey Rules of Court sets out the grounds for PCR, most of which relate to circumstances at the time of the conviction. These include a violation of the petitioner’s constitutional rights during conviction proceedings, the court’s lack of jurisdiction to impose a sentence, and the imposition of a sentence that deviates from state law. The rule also allows PCR based on common-law principles and grounds found in habeas corpus cases. In other words, PCR is only available upon a showing of error or impropriety during the original DWI proceeding, while expungement is often available based on good behavior and the passage of time.