Automatic Expungement of Criminal Records in New Jersey: Will It Happen?

Numerous lawmakers in New Jersey have been working to establish a system for people with criminal records to have their records expunged. Indeed, Senate Bill 3205 proposed numerous changes to New Jersey state law designed to wipe criminal convictions from records for more offenses, including a number of drug-related offenses. Yet Governor Phil Murphy recently vetoed the bill. However, as Governor Murphy explained in his veto, he did not veto the measure in order to limit expungement possibilities in the state. Rather, Governor Murphy explained that the bill could go further in its work toward making expungement a possibility for more people convicted of crimes in New Jersey.

Understanding the Language of the Proposed Legislation

In Governor Murphy’s veto, he explained that Senate Bill 3205 “would institute several major reforms to the expungement law, which would allow individuals convicted of certain crimes or offenses to petition the court to remove information about those convictions from their criminal records after the passage of a prescribed amount of time.” He went on to clarify that the bill would “expand the availability and applicability of criminal record expungement.”

More specifically, the bill was aimed at people convicted of non-violent crimes or offenses, particularly those related to marijuana offenses or other drug-related charges. The sponsors of the bill designed the legislation as a way of ensuring that certain people convicted of non-violent offenses would not pay the social and political price for having a criminal record long after serving a sentence.

The criminal justice system works in such a way that many individuals convicted of low-level offenses face life-long consequences. Indeed, many are unable to apply for or obtain certain types of employment in addition to losing eligibility for certain federal loans and other lines of credit. As Murphy articulated in his veto, “the fact of a criminal record serves to punish the individual well beyond the completion of the sentence imposed under the law.” Yet, as we noted above, Governor Murphy vetoed the bill. Why did he veto the proposed legislation? As Murphy declared, “this bill could go further in order to more fully and effectively achieve its intended goals.”

Expanding Expungement in New Jersey

Governor Murphy explained that New Jersey could create an even more expansive set of reforms surrounding expungement. He cited Pennsylvania’s “Clean Slate Law,” which created an automatic expungement process for summary convictions and convictions for non-violent offenses that occurred at least a decade ago. Murphy explained that New Jersey lawmakers could take a similar approach in developing legislation that would create an automatic expungement system. He reasoned that automatic expungement, as opposed to a system that would require individuals convicted of crimes to apply for expungement, helps more people and better serves social justice aims.

To make these proposed amendments happen, Murphy requested additional funds for processing expungement petitions in the amount of $15 million. Many criminal justice reform advocates approved of Murphy’s suggested changes to the legislation, emphasizing that automatic expungement possibilities and the sealing of certain criminal records would put New Jersey “on the path to ensure that New Jerseyans burdened with criminal convictions—disproportionately people of color—will no longer need to navigate an onerous legal system to obtain the well-documented benefits of expungement.”

Contact a New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney

If you have questions about the legislation or expunging criminal records, an experienced New Jersey criminal defense lawyer at our firm can help. Contact William McGuinn at or Joseph Leone at or call 732-545-4717 today.