New Jersey Law Allows Expungement of Many Criminal Records, but Not in DWI Cases

By MoToMo [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsNew Jersey allows people to expunge their criminal files in many types of cases, meaning that information related to a criminal case is removed from state and local agencies’ records and will not show up in most criminal background checks. Unfortunately, state law specifically excludes motor vehicle offenses, including driving while intoxicated, from eligibility for expungement. Even arrests for DWI are ineligible. Other states are considering similar laws to allow expungement of criminal records, but the proposed laws would similarly exclude DWI offenses. This effectively places DWI offenses, regardless of the specific circumstances, in the same category as non-expungeable violent crimes.

Because it is a motor vehicle offense and not a criminal offense in New Jersey, DWI convictions are not expungible. Likewise, the arrest for DWI is not expungible, however, again, because DWI is a motor vehicle offense, the arrest is not even “of record” on any criminal database. In other words, when stopped for a DWI, the “arrest” is not entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database. No one will ever know that a DWI arrest has occurred in New Jersey, unless the Motor Vehicle Commission records are checked.

Expungement, under New Jersey law, means the “extraction and isolation” of court, jail, or law enforcement records relating to a criminal matter. NJ Rev. Stat. § 2C:52-1. This includes records of criminal investigations, arrests, detention, and criminal court proceedings. The records are not destroyed, but are removed and placed in separate storage for expunged files. The only time they might be reviewed again would be by prison administrators after a subsequent conviction. Expungement for a felony conviction is available ten years after the date of sentencing. The time period is shorter for lesser offenses. Arrests and criminal charges that never result in a conviction or other formal disposition have no waiting period before a person may petition for an expungement.

Certain offenses are ineligible for expungement. This includes convictions for violent crimes like murder, kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault, robbery, and child endangerment. NJ Rev. Stat. § 2C:52-2(b). Records of drug convictions are ineligible for expungement if the offense involved more than a specified amount of the drug. Convictions involving official corruption also may not be expunged. New Jersey law also specifically omits motor vehicle offenses from expungement eligibility, and it applies this to DWI arrests as well as convictions. NJ Rev. Stat. § 2C:52-28. An arrest for alleged DWI that does not result in a conviction therefore cannot be expunged, but an arrest for a violent felony without a conviction potentially could be.

The Chief Judge of New York’s Court of Appeals, that state’s highest court, recently recommended that the state legislature pass a law allowing expungement, depending on the nature of the offense and the disposition of the case. The proposal is similar to New Jersey’s law, and would also exclude DWI convictions. The judge said that expungements are appropriate for people who made “individual, often isolated, mistakes” that left them with “criminal convictions for low-level, non-violent offenses.” Allowing expungement of records, the judge argued, would further facilitate a person’s return to productive membership in society. A New York Times editorial from 2012 made a similar argument. DWI cases might involved isolated mistakes, and they most definitely impact a person’s ability to re-enter productive society. It would seem, however, that DWI continues to occupy an irredeemable place in the legal system’s consciousness.

A DWI arrest in New Jersey can seriously affect your life, whether or not you are ever convicted of an offense. If you have been arrested or charged with DWI, you need the help of a qualified and skilled DWI attorney. At Levow & Associates, we have dedicated 100% of our law practice to DWI defense. We can can advise you of your rights and plan the best possible defense for you. We are available to help you 24/7. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can help you, please contact us online or at (877) 593-1717.

More Blog Posts:

NJ DWI First Offense Cases, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, February 13, 2014

New Jersey DWI defense strategy: When other serious charges may affect your outcome, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, January 3, 2014

“All Sizzle and No Beef?” – Hiring the Right NJ DWI Lawyer, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, October 25, 2013

Photo credit: By MoToMo [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.