Are Arrests & Convictions for Motor Vehicle Violations Eligible for Expungement in New Jersey?


State v. K.M.
Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division
May 27, 1987

Holding: Arrests or convictions for motor vehicle violations contained in Title 39 are not eligible for criminal record expungement.

Why This Case is Important: Chapter 52 of the New Jersey statutes is specific in providing which types of arrests and convictions can be expunged. Arrests and convictions for crimes, disorderly persons offenses, petty disorderly persons offenses, ordinance violations and certain drug offenses are eligible to be expunged. As such, it is said that expunged is meant for an offense that falls within the criminal justice system.

This case establishes that motor vehicle violations contained in Title 39 are not eligible for expungement. Section 2C:52-28 specifically states, “Nothing contained in this chapter shall apply to arrests or convictions for motor vehicle offenses contained in Title 39.” This is clear and unambiguous language that the state legislature is opposed to the idea of allowing expungement of such arrests and convictions.

The legislature’s intent can be surmised in the differences between a criminal arrest and conviction and an arrest and conviction arising from Title 39. There is a significant contrast between committing a crime and committing a motor vehicle offense, and the stigma of carrying a conviction for the former is much greater than the latter. Furthermore, if the legislature were to allow expungement of motor vehicle arrests and convictions, then it would likely lead to an overburdened court system that would be inundated with expungement petitions for the many motor vehicle violations that are given.

Persons arrested or convicted of a violation contained in Title 39 are therefore barred from expungement relief.

Facts of This Case: The petitioner in this case was arrested for tampering with a motor vehicle, a violation contained in Title 39. The superior court granted the petitioner’s request for an expungement.

The appellate division of the New Jersey Superior Courts reversed the decision to grant the petitioner’s request. The appellate court stated that N.J.S.A. § 2C:52-28 specifically barred arrests and convictions for violations contained in Title 39. The appellate court stated that none of the offenses in Title 39 fell within the specific categories covered by the expungement chapter. The appellate court noted the differences between a criminal conviction and a motor vehicle conviction, and held that the stigma of a criminal arrest is far different then for a motor vehicle violation arrest. The appellate court further held that the expungement chapter was meant to deal with offenses that were within the criminal justice system.

Given the purpose of the expungement chapter and the legislature’s clear intent to exclude motor vehicle violations, the appellate court reversed the superior court’s decision, and ordered that the petitioner’s request be denied.

Key Language: The purpose of expungement is to eradicate the stigma of a record of an arrest and prosecution. Generally, Title 39 violations do not carry the same stigma as the offenses specified in the expungement statute.

Expert Advise: “The expungement chapter specifically prevents motor vehicle violations contained in Title 39 from being expunged. Determining what title or chapter a petitioner’s violation falls under is important to assess whether they are eligible for expungement.” -Attorney Mathew Higbee.

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