New Jersey Supreme Court Issues Opinion in In the Matter of Expungement Application of D.J.B.

January 17, 2014

Previously, we wrote about our expungement case, In the Matter of Expungement Application of D.J.B., which was being heard by the New Jersey Supreme Court.  The Court was considering whether an individual who has been adjudicated delinquent as a juvenile is eligible to have an adult felony conviction expunged.  As previously discussed, expungement applications were often complicated by juvenile offenses, with most prosecutors offices in the state arguing that juvenile adjudications bar the expungement of an adult criminal conviction.

To recap, as a teen, the client was adjudged delinquent on several occasions.  Those adjudications were for offenses that, if an adult had committed them, would have constituted indictable convictions (or felonies) for burglary, theft, and various CDS offenses.  The client also had an adult record.  At the age of 18, he pled guilty to fourth-degree receiving stolen property.  At the age of 22, he pled guilty to two counts of contempt, a misdemeanor (or disorderly persons) offense.

On his own, D.J.B. had filed an application to expunge the adult convictions and the juvenile adjudications.  Although the trial court granting the client’s application to expunge his juvenile record, it denied his application to expunge his adult offenses.  The court reasoned that the juvenile expungement statute, N.J.S.A. 2C:52-4.1(a), in combination with the adult expungement statute, N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2, prevented an individual with an criminal conviction (or felony) from obtaining an expungement if they have a juvenile record.  On appeal, the Appellate Division upheld the trial court’s decision.

A month later, In re J.B., 426 N.J.Super. 496 (App. Div. 2012) – a case also argued by Randolph H. Wolf – the Appellate Division reached a different conclusion on nearly the same facts.  The court explained that the last sentence of 2C:52-4.1(a) (“for purposes of expungement, any act which resulted in a juvenile being adjudged a delinquent shall be classified as if that act had been committed by an adult”) applied only to expungements of juvenile adjudications and so did not bar the expungement of subsequent adult convictions.

D.J.B. subsequently retained Randolph H. Wolf to appeal his case to the New Jersey Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court subsequently granted certification (meaning they decided to hear the case). When the client retained Randolph H. Wolf, he was 36 years old, married with three children, and he had been gainfully employed in the insurance industry.

On appeal, it was Mr. Wolf’s position that the unnumbered paragraph in question in in 2C:52-4.1(a), which the trial and appellate courts relied on to bar D.J.B.’s expungement, applied only to the manner in which juvenile adjudications are analyzed when determining eligibility for expungement.  Thus, Mr. Wolf argued that, therefore, a juvenile adjudications does not constitute a “prior crime” under 2C:52-2, barring the expungement of a subsequent adult criminal conviction.  On October 7, 2013, Mr. Wolf presented oral argument to the Supreme Court on the case.

On January 16, 2014, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued its written opinion.  The Court agreed with Mr. Wolf’s arguments and held that N.J.S.A. 2C:52-4.1(a) applies only to applications to expunge juvenile adjudications.  It does not turn a juvenile adjudication into a prior “crime” for purposes of 2C:52-2. Thus, an adult who is otherwise eligible for expungement of an adult conviction is not disqualified because of a prior juvenile adjudication.  The Court agreed with Mr. Wolf’s arguments that the Legislature did not intend the sentence in question to apply to application to bar adult convictions.  The Court also agreed with Mr. Wolf’s argument that according to its placement, the sentence in question applied only to applications to expunge juvenile offenses.  The Court likewise agreed with Mr. Wolf’s argument a broad reading of the sentence would make other parts of the expungement scheme unnecessary surplusage.

Turning to the merits of D.J.B.’s application, the Court held that because D.J.B. meets the requirements for expungement, he is entitled to an order expunging his conviction for receipt of stolen property. Read the full New Jersey Supreme Court opinion here.

Randolph H. Wolf has assisted hundreds of clients in expunging their criminal records over the past 25 years.  As In the Matter of Expungement Application of D.J.B. shows, expungement law in New Jersey is very complicated and technical.  It is also constantly evolving.  If you have questions regarding eligibility, contact us today to discuss your case.

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