The Law Office of Randolph Wolf to Argue Expungement Case Before the New Jersey Supreme Court

Within the span of about four weeks, the Superior Court, Appellate Division issued two separate opinions with contradictory interpretations of an important provision of our state’s expungement statutes.  The issue is of particular importance to individuals seeking to expunge an adult criminal conviction who have in the past faced juvenile delinquency charges.

The two court decisions in question rest on how to interpret a section of the expungement laws that addresses what impact an adjudication of juvenile delinquency may have on a subsequent expungement application. N.J.S.A. 2C:52-4.1 provides that;

“[f]or purposes of expungement, any act which resulted in a juvenile being adjudged a delinquent shall be classified as if that act had been committed by an adult.”

In In the Matter of the Expungement Application of D.B., (Docket No. A-0658-11T2)(May 17, 2012), the Appellate Division, in an unreported opinion, agreed with the trial court that the statute means that:

“any act which resulted in a juvenile being adjudged a delinquent, and which would have been a crime if committed by an adult, must be considered a crime for purposes of expungement. Any other interpretation of this language would result in it being superfluous.”

In that case, D.B.’s juvenile delinquency adjudications included cases that would constitute criminal convictions had they been committed by an adult.  Because a person cannot expunge a criminal conviction when that person has any prior or subsequent criminal conviction, the trial court held, and the Appellate Division agreed, D.B’.s juvenile adjudications, which would have been crimes had they been committed while he was an adult, precluded his expungement of his adult conviction pursuant to the provisions of N.J.S.A. 2C:52-4.1 cited above.

Then, on June 21, 2012, another panel of the Appellate Division decided In the Matter of the Expungement Petition of J.B., (Docket No. A-1564-11T2)(June 21, 2012).  Randolph Wolf, representing the petitioner, argued that case before the Appellate Division.  Mr. Wolf argued that an analysis of the legislative history of N.J.S.A. 52-4.1 and the general principles of statutory construction revealed that the legislature intended that N.J.S.A. 2C:52-4.1 apply only when someone is seeking to expunge a juvenile delinquency record itself. In other words, when considering whether an adult criminal conviction is eligible for an expungement, juvenile delinquency adjudications should not be considered as adult criminal convictions.  The panel agreed and, in a published opinion, held that prior juvenile adjudications for that would have constituted crimes if committed by an adult do not bar subsequent applications to expunge adult criminal convictions.  See the court’s opinion in J.B. , click here.

The petitioner in D.B. appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court and recently retained the Law Office of Randolph Wolf to represent him.   On January 24, 2013, the New Jersey Supreme Court granted certification, which means that they have agreed to hear the case.   We will continue to post updates as the case progresses.