When an assistant prosecutor assigned to a particular matter is out sick on the date an arraignment or a status conference is scheduled, another assistant appears in court and handles the matter for the State. By way of contrast, when the assistant prosecutor assigned to handle expungements is out sick (or away for other completely legitimate reasons), the prevailing practice appears to be that nobody steps in for him or her. If the assistant is away for several weeks (as occasionally happens), expungement applications that he or she is handling languish, unexamined, unprocessed, untouched. The same is true for personnel in the criminal division manager’s office, for law clerks, or even for the judges who handle expungements.
New Jersey State Police are notorious for their lethargy in processing expungements. Investigation reports to county prosecutors are delayed by weeks, sometimes months. “Normal” processing time for signed expungement orders now exceeds half a year.
These are but a few of the numerous ways in which expungement processing in New Jersey is broken. In few or no other aspects of court routine would such contempt for prescribed scheduling be countenanced. It is a disgrace. Although less visible than unfolding arrests and trials, this broken system impedes employment, housing, participation in community affairs, and a panoply of other activities for thousands of persons with arrests on their record. In many instances, petitioners are seeking expungement of records relating to arrests for matters that were later dismissed.
Perhaps our Attorney General, or the Administrative Office of the Courts, can involve themselves in this morass. Certainly they should. This is not the system that our legislature envisioned. Persons whose lives are on hold because of this disgraceful situation deserve better.
Allan Marain practices in New Brunswick. Visit his website at NJExpungements.com.