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Do Juvenile Adjudications Affect Adult Conviction Expungement Eligibility in New Jersey?

State v. D.L.C.
Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division
September 11, 2012

Holding: A petitioner with prior juvenile adjudications is not statutorily barred from expunging records of his adult conviction.

Why This Case is Important: New Jersey expungements are said to be available for one-time offenders. This interpretation arises from the language of New Jersey statute section 2C:52-2, which states “a person who has been convicted of a crime under the laws of [New Jersey] and who has not been convicted of any prior or subsequent crime” may petition for expungement. As such, a person with more than one adult criminal conviction will not be able to successfully petition for expungement.

This case demonstrates the effect of a prior juvenile adjudication. According to State v. D.L.C., a person who has prior juvenile adjudications may still petition for expungement. Therefore a petitioner with one adult conviction, and several juvenile adjudications, will not be barred from seeking expungement of his criminal conviction.

The court’s decision in this case required it to analyze N.J.S.A. section 2C:52-4.1(a), which governed the expungement of juvenile adjudications. Section 2C:52-4.1(a) states any person who has been adjudicated delinquent shall be treated as if an adult had committed the act. In opposing expungement, the State argued that this language meant that the petitioner had more than one adult conviction, and should therefore be statutorily barred. The court ruled that this was too broad of an interpretation, and the section 2C:52-4.1(a) was drafted only in order to allow for the expungement of juvenile adjudications. Furthermore, the legislature did not express the intent that juvenile adjudications could be considered as adult convictions that would preclude expungement.

Given the court’s analysis, a petitioner with juvenile adjudications is not barred from seeking expungement.

Facts of This Case: The petitioner in this case was adjudicated delinquent for several offenses as a juvenile. In 1993, as an adult, the defendant pleaded guilty for theft of movable property and third-degree burglary. In 2011, the defendant filed a petition for expungement of his 1993 adult conviction. The petition for expungement was opposed by the state on the grounds that the petitioner’s juvenile adjudications were to be treated as though they were adult convictions. Because the New Jersey expungement statute states the petitioner cannot have prior or subsequent convictions, the State argued that the petitioner should be statutorily barred. The Superior Court of New Jersey sided with the State and denied the petition for expungement.

The Appellate Division reversed the superior court’s decision. The appellate court held that the trial court had misinterpreted the expungement statute. The appellate court determined that there was no legislative intent to treat juvenile adjudications as if they were adult convictions. The appellate court therefore concluded that the petitioner was not barred from seeking expungement of his criminal conviction because of his prior juvenile adjudications.

Key Language: There was no evidence the Legislature intended to make expungement of adult conviction more difficult by treating juvenile adjudiciations as if they were adult convictions. [Petitioner] was not barred from seeking expungement of his criminal conviction because of his prior juvenile convictions.

Expert Advise: “New Jersey statute § 2C:52-4.1(a) provides legislative authority to expunge records of juvenile adjudications. It is not authority that prevents the expungement of adult convictions. This case establishes that a petitioner with juvenile adjudications is still eligible for expungement of his adult criminal convictions.” -Attorney Mathew Higbee.

To read about more cases that help to define record clearing relief laws click here.

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