UPDATE – Expungement of Civil Commitments
This is an update of our blog on the Expungement of Civil Commitments that we first wrote about two years ago. We would like to share the practical experience we have gained during that time.
It is clear under N.J.S.A. 30:4-80.8 that the Petitioner need only show that “he or she has been discharged from the facility as recovered, or whose illness upon discharge is substantially improved or in substantial remission.” What we have found is that while it is not required under the statute, most Judges we have appeared before want a report from a mental health professional to demonstrate that the person seeking the Civil Commitment’s mental health is currently stable and that they pose no danger to themselves or others. The Judges are aware that frequently a Civil Commitment Expungement is requested in order for the Petitioner to be able to purchase firearms. Persons who have been civilly committed are prohibited from obtaining a Firearms Purchase Permit. Judges are understandably cautious about granting these applications.
The Judge would like to see that the mental health professional knows about the circumstances of the commitment, both from the medical records and from the petitioner explaining what happened. If there are police records, the Judge would also like the mental health professional to see and understand the contents of those reports. Not only does the mental health professional have to evaluate the past conduct of the petitioner, the Judge would also like them to evaluate the present mental state of the petitioner.
We have found without a report such as the one described above, many Judge are unwilling to make a final decision on a Civil Commitment Expungement Petition. It has been our experience that while the Judge may not outright deny the Petition, they are likely to to deny the application “without prejudice” meaning, it is not a final decision. The Judge usually will explain, sometimes in great detail, what they believe is missing and what they would need to make a decision in the Petitioner’s favor.
Judges vary greatly in what they will require in an application to Expunge a Civil Commitment. We recently had a matter where the Prosecutor objected to the Expungement in Morris County. The Court held a full testimonial hearing with both the petitioner and the mental health professional testifying via telephone from Minnesota. Unfortunately, the Judge believed that the mental health professional did not get the full picture of the incidents leading up to the Petitioner’s commitment, and therefore denied the application without prejudice. The judge is willing to reassess that denial, once a supplemental report from the mental health professional is provided.
In another recent Civil Commitment Expungement, where the incident was unrelated to any other past or future behavior, the Judge still wanted a full report from a mental health professional. Having the mental health professional understand the initial commitment is key to the Judge granting a petition, even in commitments for a single episode that had never been repeated.
Giving the Judge all the possible information they can get from a mental health professional is the key to having a Civil Commitment expunged. When the requirements of the statute are met, as long as the petitioner is honest and open with the mental health professional and the Court, an expungement has no reason to be denied. It is imperative that the mental health professional preparing the report and/or testifying be thoroughly familiar with both the factual basis for the original commitment and the current state of the Petitioner’s mental health.
The experienced Expungement Attorneys at the Law Office of Randolph H. Wolf have successfully obtained many Orders Granting Petitions for Civil Commitment Expungements. If you have a Civil Commitment that you would like expunged, contact the lawyers at the Law Office of Randolph H. Wolf today for a free consultation at 732-741-4448. We will review your case to see if you qualify for a Civil Commitment Expungement.