Joseph A. Lombardo
Having a criminal record can interfere with every aspect of your life, limiting employment, housing, and lending opportunities while burdening you with a negative social stigma. However, you may be able to clear your name by obtaining something called an expungement, which seals your record so that it cannot be accessed by the vast majority of the general public. Unfortunately, this legal process is complicated, and it’s easy to make a mistake which could compromise your case. If you’re trying to seal your criminal record in New Jersey, it’s in your best interest to seek experienced legal representation from an expungement attorney.
Obeying New Jersey Expungement Statutes and Court Rules
You are not required to retain an attorney to help you with the expungement process. There is no law mandating that you work with a lawyer, and you are legally free to handle your expungement yourself, which is known as pro se expungement. That being said, there are some very good reasons to strongly consider getting professional legal help.
To begin with, you should know that you’ll be expected to comply with all court rules and procedures. Court personnel will not guide you through your hearing (or the preceding requirements), nor will they grant you any preferential treatment or use simplified procedures simply because you are representing yourself. On the contrary, pro se petitioners are expected to familiarize themselves with the applicable laws and filing requirements. In fact, the New Jersey judiciary itself recommends against pro se representation for this very reason, issuing the following warning:
The court system can be confusing, and it is a good idea to get a lawyer if you can… While you have the right to represent yourself in court, you should not expect any special treatment, help, or attention from the court. You must still comply with the rules of the court, even if you are not familiar with them.
Unfortunately for petitioners, mastering these court rules is a tall order. You need only glance at the New Jersey judiciary’s website to see why. Not only are there hundreds of rules, it can also be very difficult simply to discern which are relevant to expungement proceedings. It is very easy for the untrained eye to miss a critical piece of information which could significantly impact the ultimate outcome.
In addition to learning numerous court rules, pro se petitioners are also obliged to familiarize themselves with New Jersey’s expungement statutes, of which there are several dozen. Collectively, the statutes governing expungement procedures address matters such as:
- The treatment of indictable offenses versus the treatment of disorderly persons offenses and petty DP offenses (N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2, N.J.S.A. 2C:52-3).
- The permissible time and basis for vacating an order to seal records (N.J.S.A. 2C:52-26).
- How diversionary programs and supervisory treatment affect expungements (N.J.S.A. 2C:52-20).
- The prosecutor’s legal responsibilities (N.J.S.A. 2C:52-24).
While certainly not impossible to understand, the legal language or “legalese” used throughout these statutes presents a frustrating barrier for many petitioners.
The judiciary also advises petitioners of the following limitations:
- “We cannot give you legal advice. Only your lawyer can give you legal advice.”
- “We cannot talk to the judge for you about what will happen in your case.”
- “We cannot tell you whether or not you should bring your case to court. [Nor can we] give you an opinion about what will happen if you bring your case to court.”
Filing and Serving the Legal Forms to Seal Your Criminal Record
Not only are pro se petitioners expected to master numerous court rules and complicated legal statutes — they’re also obligated to handle each and every step of the filing process on their own, including gathering the appropriate paperwork, filling out and submitting each form, serving copies of forms on the appropriate parties, and of course, observing rigid deadlines.
Unfortunately, there is an abundance of expungement paperwork. Pro se filers will need to handle all of the following documents from start to finish:
- Petition for Expungement
- Order for Hearing
- Expungement Order
- Cover Letter
- Proof of Notice
In turn, each of these documents comes with its own set of requirements. For example, you’ll need to distribute the Expungement Order alone to as many as 12 different parties, including the Attorney General of New Jersey, the Records Division at the jail or prison where you were incarcerated, and the Identification Bureau in the county where you were placed under arrest.
It’s easy to see how staying on top of so much paperwork could turn into a nightmare and undermine your chances of succeeding — and that’s just where a standard case is concerned. If your case involves any special details, such as an out-of-state conviction or multiple convictions, these complications are compounded even further.
If you’re thinking about sealing your record, don’t go it alone: get trusted legal help from an experienced criminal record expungements lawyer. Attorney Joseph Lombardo has more than 20 years of experience, and offers free consultations for all new clients. To set up your free and confidential legal consultation, call Lombardo Law today at (609) 318-6196.
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