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Breaking free of the criminal record ball and chain

On behalf of Cohn Lifland Pearlman Herrmann & Knopf LLP | Nov 8, 2018 |

The ball and chain image enjoys a long history in U.S. iconography. It can mean many things. In the context of criminal law, it tends to serve as a visual cue that the person wearing it stands convicted of some charge. For the person it’s attached to, it is a burden that can’t be shed.

Balls and chains are not as common as they once were, but records of arrest or conviction can have the same effect, barring some from full participation in society. Applications for housing, education or work often ask if a person has a record, and answering truthfully often means rejection.

It may be possible to have records expunged, but eligibility is strictly limited by New Jersey law. It requires filing proper petitions with the proper court. You can anticipate challenges from prosecutors or others, so making the strongest argument for your case requires that you have a thorough understanding of your rights.


The process of expungement involves the removal and isolation of any records in any government facility related to any aspect of an individual criminal or juvenile justice system case. That can include information related to:

  • Arrest
  • Detention
  • Trial
  • Final determination, including conviction

New Jersey law details what conditions must exist for a person to petition for expungement. For example, convictions involving motor vehicle-related offense, including driving under the influence, can’t be expunged because they are technically not criminal convictions. If the conviction is for an indictable offense, a lesser offense or for violating a municipal ordinance, and there is only one, expungement could be possible.

Time requirements

Once the type of conviction is identified as covered, the law requires you to wait certain amounts of time after the final disposition of your case before seeking expungement. For instance:

  • Municipal ordinance violations – two years
  • Disorderly Person’s offenses – five years
  • Indictable offenses – 10 years (possibly five under exceptional circumstances)

The purpose of the expungement law is to provide those who qualify a chance at a fresh start. The process is not simple, however. So, if you have questions, speak with an experienced attorney.