First-time offenders charged with minor crimes in municipal court will have a chance to wipe their records clean under a new state law, said one Atlantic County lawmaker who sponsored the bill.
Gov. Chris Christie signed the bill, A-3598 and S-2588, Monday, said Assemblyman Chris Brown, R-Atlantic.
Brown said the bill will give offenders the same advantage people convicted of more serious crimes in Superior Court already have - a chance to wipe their records clean.
Under the bill, someone charged with a petty disorderly persons offense or disorderly persons offense may apply for a conditional discharge program that would remove the charge from their record provided they enter treatment - such as for anger management or substance abuse - or perform community service while under supervision for a year. State Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, also sponsored the bill.
The program is available to people who have not been previously convicted of a crime and does not include crimes involving gang activity, domestic violence, animal cruelty and drunken driving.
Brown, a former municipal prosecutor in Egg Harbor Township and municipal judge in Galloway Township, said this will benefit young people who made a bad decision.
"A program that offers an alternative way for people to pay off their debt to society for very minor offenses is in everyone's best interest," he said.
Jon-Henry Barr, president of the New Jersey State Municipal Prosecutors Association, said "by and large" the state's municipal prosecutors are supportive of this new law.
"It gives us an alternative option with first-time offenders charged with minor offenses," he said. "It's helpful and appropriate in many cases."
The state's Superior Court system, which handles the more serious offenses addressed in municipal courts, has a Pre-Trial Intervention program that allows people charged with crime to have the charges removed from their record if they receive and complete rehabilitative services.
Barr said "it doesn't make sense," that those charged with less serious offenses could not have their records expunged.
The type of crimes that would qualify for the program include shoplifting, simple assault, disorderly conduct, harassment or using false identification, Barr said.
The penalty for these crimes is a fine up to $1,000 and a jail term up to six months, although Barr said first-time offenders rarely are given jail terms.
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