Expungement vs. Pardons in New Jersey: Which Option Is Right for You?

  • Criminal Defense

The Difference Between Expungement and Pardon and Why It Matters

A criminal record can handicap you throughout life, even years after you serve any time for the conviction and return to normal life as an active and lawful citizen. You might find it harder to get a job, for example, or to get a lease on a home or apartment. But did you know that many people with criminal records in New Jersey may be eligible for expungement?

Find out more about expungement below, and learn about the difference between this process and a pardon. Then consider working with a criminal defense attorney to apply to expunge your record or seek other relief from a conviction if possible.

What Is an Expungement?

Expungement is a process that removes or completely seals all the records related to a conviction. In effect, it “erases” the conviction and everything associated with it, including the fact that you were arrested and any court proceedings that are tied to the case. That includes the details of your conviction, including what sentence was handed down and how you served it.

If you can successfully get an expungement, it’s as if the crime and conviction never existed on paper. Some benefits of getting an expungement include:

  • Potentially better access to jobs. A sealed criminal record doesn’t show up in a background check, and you don’t even have to disclose it on a job application when asked if you have ever been convicted of a crime.
  • Potentially increased access to housing, education, and other lifestyle amenities. The same is true for any process that involves a background check.
  • Reduced social stigma. Since the conviction doesn’t exist on paper after an expungement, you may feel reduced social stigma. This is especially true for anyone who is trying to launch a “new life” after overcoming a criminal background; unless you tell them, no one has to know about the past.

What Is a Pardon?

A pardon is not the same as an expungement. Pardons are forgiveness for a crime issued by the governor of the state (or the President of the United States for federal cases).

Pardons don’t remove the record of the crime. However, they are supposed to remove any future penalties for a crime. You are not supposed to face any future consequences associated with the crime and conviction for which you received a pardon. That being said, societal stigmas can be difficult to overcome, and the record of the crime (and the pardon) will still show up in background checks.

When Can You Get an Expungement in New Jersey

To get an expungement in New Jersey, you must be dealing with offenses and convictions that occurred in the state. Otherwise, you’ll need to seek expungement through another state’s processes.

The offense or offenses in question must meet the requirements for expungement. In most cases, you can’t get an expungement for very serious offenses such as criminal homicide, aggravated sexual assault, selling or manufacturing child pornography, robbery, kidnapping, or criminal restraint. This is not an exhaustive list; it’s simply meant to demonstrate the severity of the crimes that aren’t eligible for expungement.

You also have to wait for a certain period of time before you can apply for expungement. If you are convicted of one qualifying indictable offense and serve whatever sentence is handed down, you can get an expungement five years after serving that time. You can also get up to three disorderly persons offenses expunged alongside that indictable offense. Or you can get four disorderly persons offenses expunged if there is no indictable offense. After ten years, you can expunge an unlimited number of qualifying crimes.

Does a Pardon Help You Get an Expungement?

There is some legal precedent in the state of New Jersey that indicates that a pardon may help you get an expungement in cases where you would otherwise not qualify for one. According to a case decided by the New Jersey Supreme Court, the effect of a pardon is to remove future legal punishments for an offense. In cases where an offense is not allowed to be expunged, that disallowance is part of the punishment.

There are many complexities that might go into this consideration, but in some cases, it may be better to seek a pardon before seeking an expungement.

Do You Need a Lawyer to Get a Pardon or Expungement?

An attorney isn’t required in all cases where pardons or expungements are possible. However, having an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side can help you sidestep common mistakes or problems with these processes and understand what your options are and how best to seek them. A lawyer can also support you throughout the process by ensuring paperwork is correct and submitted in a timely manner and making a case for favorable results in writing or in front of any official body or individual if it becomes necessary to do so.

Your fight in the criminal justice system isn’t over simply because a conviction is handed down. There are many actions you can take to protect your rights and freedom in the future, including appealing the conviction or seeking relief through pardon or expungement. To find out what options you might have to get a conviction off of your record, contact the Hernandez Law Firm, P.C., by calling 732-286-2700 to schedule an appointment.

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