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This month brought good news to people who have been patiently waiting to clear their criminal records. For everyone who made a mistake or a bad choice and wants to move forward, the time may be now.

Major changes in New Jersey's expungement laws will shorten the waiting time to apply for an expungement.

An expungement is the legal process that allows individuals to have certain arrests and convictions removed from their criminal history. Instead of showing an arrest and dismissal or an arrest and conviction, an expungement takes the entire case off of a criminal history. The rap sheet will be blank.

The new law goes into effect in April and anyone who qualifies should start preparing their expungement petitions now.

The law allows anyone convicted of certain felonies to apply for expungement 5 years after the date of conviction, or termination of probation or release from prison, whichever is later if the expungement is in the public interest. What this means is that anyone who has completed their sentence on a felony and has led a law-abiding life should apply to have their criminal case expunged.

The new law allows people convicted of disorderly persons offenses to apply for expungement after 3 years if it is in the public interest. In other words, if someone paid their fine or finished their probation and has led a law-abiding life since then, expungement may be granted after three years.

Many people believe that once a fine is paid or a case is dismissed that the charge is removed from their criminal history. This is not true. An arrest stays on a rap sheet forever unless it is legally removed with the expungement process.

The law reduces the waiting period for crimes to five years and for disorderly persons offenses to three years if there are no new convictions and it is in the public interest.

It is important to determine when a case is over in order to determine when an arrest and/or conviction is eligible for expungement. The expungement laws in New Jersey are the single greatest part of the criminal justice system because they allow individuals to reclaim their lives. It is so much easier to obtain a job if you can tell an employer that you have never been arrested. Expungement allows individuals to do just that.

It is important to apply for an expungement as soon the case is legally eligible. That way when a great job offer comes along, or a promotion, or a random background check, the criminal case will not ruin an employment opportunity.

This new change will help so many good people who have been waiting to move forward with their lives but were held back because of their criminal record.

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