Do Juvenile Adjudications Bar the Expungement of Adult Convictions?

Randolph Wolf recently represented an individual who sought to have an adult felony conviction expunged. According to N.J.S.A. 52-2, the adult expungement statute, in order to have an adult felony conviction expunged, the individual must not have been “convicted” of any prior or subsequent crimes. In addition to his one adult conviction, the client had two prior juvenile adjudications.

The New Jersey Superior Court judge denied the individual’s petition for expungement, finding that the juvenile adjudications constituted prior convictions. In other words, the court held that juvenile adjudications bar the expungement of subsequent adult convictions.

Mr. Wolf recently appealed this decision to the New Jersey Appellate Division, arguing that the judge’s interpretation of the expungement statutes was incorrect. In support of his position, Mr. Wolf pointed to language in the adult expungement statute that repeatedly limits its application to “convictions” and to those who were “convicted,” a term which, by definition, does not include juvenile adjudications. He also pointed out that New Jersey courts have, in fact, expressly held that juvenile adjudications do not constitute convictions.

Additionally, Mr. Wolf argued that allowing juvenile adjudications to bar the expungement of adult offenses would run counter to the basic purpose of the juvenile justice system, which seeks to rehabilitate – rather than punish – troubled youths. Moreover, he noted that juvenile adjudications are fundamentally different from adult convictions in that a juvenile who is adjudged in the juvenile justice system is not afforded the full protections available to criminal defendants. For example, juveniles do not have the right to a jury. Thus, he argued, a juvenile adjudication should not carry the same consequences as an adult conviction, unless the juvenile is afforded the same rights as an adult.

The Appellate Division has yet to rule on the case. If Mr. Wolf’s argument is successful, then a person who has only one adult conviction but who was adjudged delinquent as a juvenile will be eligible to expunge the adult conviction.