Pardons Can Now Expunge Criminal Convictions That Were Otherwise Ineligible

In re Petition for Expungement of the Criminal Record Belonging to T.O.

Decided: January 11, 2021

Docket No.: A-55-19

Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark

The Supreme Court of New Jersey has recently ruled that a pardon by the President or Governor can now make criminal convictions eligible for expungement that were otherwise not permissible under the New Jersey expungement statute.

In T.O., petitioner had two prior convictions: aggravated assault, from May 1994, and possession of a controlled dangerous substance within 1,000 feet of school property, from May 1996. Since his release from prison more than two decades ago, T.O. had not been arrested and had led a productive life. From 2001 to 2016, he worked for a private corrections company, where he rose from an entry-level employee to supervisor of operations. T.O. also volunteered at a homeless shelter and started a nonprofit group that feeds the homeless.

In October 2017, T.O. filed a petition for executive clemency. In January 2018, then-Governor Christopher J. Christie granted T.O. “a full and free Pardon for all criminal charges and convictions arising” out of his two prior arrests and convictions. In June 2018, T.O. filed a petition to expunge all records related to the convictions.

The State opposed T.O.’s petition and argued that N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2(a) barred expungement for individuals with multiple convictions. Aside from the State’s reading of the expungement statute, the prosecutor conceded that “[i]f there is a person deserving of an expungement . . . , it is [T.O.]”

The trial court agreed on both points: the court concluded that T.O.’s petition was subject to the statutory bar, which the pardon did not wipe out. Had the statute read otherwise, the court observed, T.O. “would have qualified” for expungement. The Appellate Division affirmed, and the Supreme Court granted T.O.’s petition for certification. 241 N.J. 199 (2020).

The Supreme Court reversed the ruling after reviewing a history of the amendments made to New Jersey’s expungement statute and the broad power of the executive pardon.  The Court found that although it is not an automatic approval for an expungement, the courts can take a case by case basis in viewing the purpose of the expungement statute along with an executive pardon.  In T.O.’s application, the prosecutor and the trial court agreed that T.O. should be given an expungement, but he was prevented by the requirements of the statute.  T.O.’s circumstances were appropriate for an expungement.

If you have a criminal record and believe you may be eligible for an expungement, contact the experienced attorneys at Hark & Hark today. Expungements have never been easier to obtain.  The process is seamless and very cost effective for the benefit of wiping clean your criminal history.  In light of COVID-19, we are slashing fees and offering manageable payment plans for expungement petitions.

At Hark & Hark, we represent clients for any case in any county in New Jersey including Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Mercer, Ocean, and Salem counties. We represent clients in all towns in New Jersey, including Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, Elizabeth, Edison, Woodbridge, Lakewood, Toms River, Hamilton, Trenton, Clifton, Camden, Brick, Cherry Hill, Passaic, Middletown, Union City, Old Bridge, Gloucester Township, East Orange, Bayonne, Franklin Township, North Bergen, Vineland, and Union.

Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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