Dolores Black, a young Jersey City mother of two, was convicted of a drug possession charge in 2001 and paid her dues – or so she thought.
“I wasted almost two years of school going for nursing and I was just told that because of the possession charge, I cannot get my [nursing] license,” said a teary-eyed Black last week.
Black was one of approximately 100 residents who came to a workshop Wednesday at the Mary McLeod Bethune Community Center in Jersey City found out more about expungement of their small-time criminal record.
Expungement is a legal process in which a criminal record is made nonpublic. The end result is that under the law, you can answer employers’ questions regarding any criminal conviction without worrying about any previous activity.
But as the invited speakers at the workshop pointed out, expunging one’s record takes time and perseverance.
The speakers included several local attorneys, Hudson County Det. Rhudi Snelling, and Jersey City Incinerator Authority Director Oren Dabney.
The event was presented by the Sandra and Glenn D. Cunningham Foundation and City Councilwoman Viola Richardson.A frustrating 1.5 hours
Some of the attendees became frustrated during the 1.5-hour event and left.
They learned that expungement can be rather detailed, time-consuming, and somewhat expensive depending on income level.
One man angrily said to his friend, “What are we here for?” when he was reading the beginning of a guide put out this year by Legal Services of New Jersey, called “Clearing Your Record – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.”
The beginning of the guide read: “When an expungement is granted, law enforcement agencies are required by law to keep that person’s records private. However, the law does allow expunged records to be used later in certain cases. Should the person ever again become involved in any criminal proceedings, the records can be used.”
The two men left in the middle of the workshop, but some stayed to learn about the hoops they must jump through if they are expecting a clean slate.
Hudson County Detective Calvin Hart, who also attended the meeting, called for attendees not to get “discouraged” since “the laws need to be changed” in New Jersey regarding expungement.
“You need to keep your behinds here and ask the questions so people know what you are going through,” said Hart.
Councilwoman Richardson said there would be another workshop in the near future to make it easier.
“You can write to your assemblyman and other local representatives and make your voice heard on changing the laws,” said Richardson, “because the squeaky wheel gets the oil.”
Sandra Cunningham said that Nov. 30 may be the date of the next workshop. The process
Expungement requires completing a petition for expungement, explaining why one should qualify; and getting a hearing before a judge.
Copies of the petition have to be sent to various law enforcement agencies. If someone is granted an expungement, copies of the expungement order also have to be sent same law enforcement agencies.
In the state of New Jersey, expunging a disorderly persons conviction (a crime with six or fewer months punishment) requires a five-year wait. A violation of a municipal ordinance requires a two-year waiting period.
An individual found guilty of a crime with six months’ or more punishment is eligible for expungement only 10 years from the date of the conviction, payment of fine, completion of probation or parole, or release from jail.
Some crimes may not be expunged. In New Jersey, they are murder, kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault, robbery, arson and related offenses, perjury, false testimony, and conspiracies or attempts to the mentioned crimes.
Drug crimes are not eligible for expungement, unless the person was 21 years old or younger. 417 applied last year
Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio said last week that there were 417 expungement applications filed in Hudson County in 2005, although he could not provide how many were granted.
DeFazio said, “I think it can be time-consuming, but clearly anyone who is eligible to get an expungment should do so. We should be willing to forgive one mistake.” Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at email@example.com