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December 9, 2019

In the Matter of the Expungement of C.P.M., Docket No. A-4210-18T3– Approved for Publication (December 6, 2019) – The Appellate Division reversed a trial court decision which granted a “crime spree” expungement under N.J.S.A. 2C:52-2(a) because it concluded that the petitioner’s convictions were not “closely related in circumstances.”

Petitioner sought to expunge an April 2005 conviction for possession of CDS during a traffic stop and two June 22, 2005 convictions for criminal mischief for sneaking into his ex-girlfriend’s home and breaking down a bedroom door. Petitioner argued that the convictions were related since they resulted from his drug and alcohol addiction during the several month period when the offenses occurred. The State argued that the crimes did not share common elements or fact patterns and were not “interdependent or closely related in circumstances and were not committed within a comparatively short period of time.”

Based on a plain language reading of the statute, the Appellate Division found the offenses were not interdependent or closely related in circumstances. The Appellate Division notes that the offense took place several months from each other, did not share common elements and were not similar in nature, were not party of some larger “criminal scheme” and involved “entirely” different and unrelated circumstances.

“Under C.P.M.’s interpretation of the statute,” the court held, “an applicant could assert a drug dependency in a certification in support of his or her petition and request an expungement of years of crimes and offenses during the time he or she alleged to be drug-dependent.”

The court noted the statements made by petitioner during his probation interview minimized his drug use as only causal and experimental, as compared to this certification on the expungement application in which he claimed full drug dependence, seemingly bringing the petitioner’s credibility into question.

A broad reading of the statute to permit the petitioner’s expungement would according to the Appellate Division, “invite the submission of certifications that could consist of self-serving statements designed to show that the crimes and offenses were “interdependent and closely related in circumstances.” The court could then, it continued, grant expungement on statements that “only establish a loose and vague nexus between the crimes and offenses sought to be expunged.

It concluded by asserting that the Legislature “did not intend” that “any person addicted to drugs could be eligible for an expungement of any crime the person alleged was committed while he or she was under the influence of an illegal substance.”

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