Expungement: An Answer to Employment Background Checks in New Jersey

Added security measures have become commonplace in the time since the September 11th tragedy. Many people view these inconveniences as acceptable and necessary, but security precautions are affecting Americans in ways that we may not have contemplated. Since September 11th, corporate America has substantially increased the amount of security checks it conducts on its employees. These background checks are being performed not only on new applicants, but also on existing employees. As a result of heightened workplace security, many individuals, including those who have been employed for a long period of time, have lost their jobs after background checks revealed some form of criminal record. How can an employee who has a criminal record avoid losing his or her job to a corporate security background check? An expungement may be the answer.  

What Can Happen as the Result of a Negative Background Check?

Left unaddressed, a criminal record may have serious consequences on one's career and livelihood. A negative background check may prohibit a job applicant from getting hired, prevent an employee from being promoted, or restrict a business owner or his or her employees from contracting with or servicing the government or certain corporations. In other instances, people may be denied a license to practice within a certain profession. A young person’s brush with the law may also hinder his or her entrance into college, graduate school, or a military academy. An expungement may help employees clear an employment background check.

What Is an Expungement?

An expungement is a legal procedure that "removes" a criminal record from the files and computer systems of the court, police department, and other law enforcement agencies. The New Jersey Criminal Code allows an individual who has been arrested or convicted of a crime to file a Petition for an Expungement. If the New Jersey State Superior Court grants a Petition for an Expungement, it’s as if all matters relating to an arrest, detention, trial, or conviction never occurred. An applicant whose record has been expunged may respond "no" when asked, during an interview or on a job application, whether he or she has ever been arrested or convicted of a crime.

Who Can Get an Expungement?

If you have been arrested or convicted of a crime, disorderly persons, petty disorderly persons, or a juvenile offense in New Jersey, you may be eligible for an expungement. Not all convictions can be expunged, however. The nature of the offense committed and the number of convictions you have are some factors that determine whether you are eligible for an expungement under New Jersey law. While there is usually a time period you must wait before filing for an expungement, you may immediately file for an expungement if you were arrested, but not convicted. If the charges against you were administratively dismissed after you completed a supervisory treatment program, you must wait six months after the dismissal. Other time limits are determined by statute and depend on the seriousness of the offense.

What Is the Process for Getting an Expungement?

When a Petition for Expungement Order is filed with a New Jersey Superior Court, a hearing date is usually set within thirty-five to sixty days. The total process takes approximately three to six months. Since an expungement is technical and rather complex, the services of an attorney may be helpful.

Once a final Order for Expungement is granted, all records are removed from law enforcement agency files and "sealed". A designated person has control of these records and no information may be released. A person making a background check will be advised there is no record available. New Jersey expungement laws even make it a crime for a person to "reveal to another the existence of an arrest, conviction or related legal proceeding with knowledge that the records and information pertaining...[have] been expunged or sealed".

Despite the expungement process, there are limited circumstances when a person must still disclose a contact with the criminal justice system. These situations include submitting an application to a judicial branch, law enforcement, or correction agency.

What if the Criminal Conviction Is Not From New Jersey?

If a conviction occurred in a state other than New Jersey, a court in that state may, in certain instances, restrict access to or disclosure of a conviction. This may occur when a court "seals" a criminal record or when an attorney resolves the case in a specific manner. Since these procedures vary from state to state, a person may consider consulting with legal counsel in the state where the incident occurred to determine what effect the criminal charges may have on future employment and what remedies are available.

If a criminal record is hindering your career opportunities, the expungement process may provide you relief from having that mistake effect you throughout your life. An attorney may be able to explain your legal rights and assist you with filing a Petition for Expungement. 

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