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When a court convicted you of a minor crime, the judge or your attorney may have explained the consequences. You may have served a short time in jail, paid a fine or spent time on probation. You may have made restitution or completed a drug rehabilitation program. It was not easy, and in fact, some of your obligations may have been inconvenient and challenging.

Nevertheless, you may feel you paid your debt to society, and perhaps you learned something along the way about making choices. What you may not have learned during this time was that your conviction would haunt you for the rest of your life. A criminal conviction, even for minor crimes, can have a devastating effect on your options for the future. Fortunately, a new law in New Jersey is trying to change that for people like you.

Expunging past offenses

With a criminal conviction on your record, you may wish there were some way to erase your past and start fresh. In a way, there is. It's called expungement, and this process seals certain aspects of your criminal record from the eyes of the law as if those offenses never occurred. Many offenses are eligible for expungement as long as you do not have another conviction within the next 10 years.

In the past, expungement required you to petition the court to have those offenses sealed from your record. This was complicated and time-consuming, and only a small percentage of convicted offenders took advantage of it. Many did not even know they had this option. Perhaps you are among those who had a difficult time finding a job or even getting a call for a second interview because of your criminal record.

The new bill opens doors

The recent passage of New Jersey's "Clean Slate" law widens the scope of offenses that qualify for expungement. Not only are certain minor and nonviolent crimes eligible, but the court will seal convictions for low-level marijuana charges as soon as you complete your sentence. Additionally, if you are on probation or parole like nearly 80,000 residents of this state, the law restores your right to vote.

Perhaps most importantly is that these positive changes occur automatically. You will not have to petition for the expungement of your record or the restoration of your voting rights. After the appropriate time has passed, an automated system will take those steps for you. If your criminal records is hindering your chances for a brighter future, you would be wise to speak with an attorney about your options for expungement and the restoration of your rights.

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